February 22, 2011

Final Discovery Launch Set For Thursday

Space Shuttle Discovery's final flight is currently scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon at 4:50pm EST, as the venerable spacecraft departs from Kennedy Space Center in Florida for an 11-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA officials have announced.

The launch date for the STS-133 mission was confirmed by officials at the US space agency on Friday, and the countdown to blast off began at 3pm EST on Monday. According to NASA, there currently are no "significant issues" with Discovery, and Thursday's weather forecast calls for an 80% chance of "acceptable conditions" for the scheduled blast off.

The STS-133 crew will be led by Commander Steve Lindsey and also consists of Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.

They will be delivering a storage container known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), which will house experiments in fluid physics, materials science, biology, and biotechnology, according to NASA. Furthermore, the Discovery payload will include a human-like robot (Robonaut 2), which will permanently join the ISS crew, as well as spare parts and an equipment-holding platform.

In addition, Bowen and Drew are scheduled to participate in a pair of spacewalks, in which they will perform maintenance on the space station and install new components.

According to NASA, Thursday's launch "will occur six hours after the planned docking of the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 'Johannes Kepler' to the space station."

An Ariane rocket carrying the ESA's ATV-2 departed for the space station last Wednesday, after its previously scheduled Tuesday launch was pushed back due to a minor technical issue with the fuelling system. The Johannes Kepler is reportedly the largest cargo ever carried by an Ariane rocket, and is carrying food, fuel, oxygen, and spare parts for the ISS crew.

This will be Discovery's 39th and final flight. The spacecraft, which started its first mission in August 1984, has made 35 trips to the ISS, according to NASA officials. The space shuttle program itself is set to be retired later this year after two additional missions are completed.


Image Caption: At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 pose for a photo on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway after arriving in T-38 jets. From left, are Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew, pilot Eric Boe and Commander Steve Lindsey. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett


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