News / USA

Discovery Preps for Last Space Mission

Launch winds down US space shuttle program

The space shuttle Discovery is prepared for launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Feb. 23, 2011.
The space shuttle Discovery is prepared for launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Feb. 23, 2011.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

As Discovery begins its 39th and final mission into Earth's orbit Thursday, America’s 30-year space shuttle program comes one step closer to its scheduled end this April.

The aging fleet of reusable spacecraft has become an American technology icon, ferrying astronauts and mobile laboratories into space and helping in the construction and resupply of the International Space Station.      

Discovery has been a regular visitor to Earth's orbit since its maiden flight in 1984. It is the oldest and longest-serving vehicle in the U.S. space agency’s shuttle fleet. Discovery’s final flight follows several delays due to technical problems and repairs to its external fuel tank, but NASA’s mission launch director Mike Leinbach says the shuttle is still space-ready.

"It’s her 39th mission and [there] would have been quite a few left in her had the program been extended, but it wasn’t," he says. "It is a kind of bittersweet to get the last flight out of her, but she’s going to perform perfectly fine in orbit and bring the crew home safely."

Discovery’s 11-day mission is a supply run to the International Space Station. On board are 3,855 kilograms of cargo including a large supply closet, a replacement radiator and a humanoid robot helper named Robonaut 2.

Robonaut (R2), the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, flexes its mechanical muscles prior to its transport aboard space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station.
Robonaut (R2), the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, flexes its mechanical muscles prior to its transport aboard space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station.

Over its long career in space, Discovery has been a real work horse says Valerie Neal, shuttle curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. "It’s delivered satellites. It’s picked up and repaired satellites. It’s flown scientific laboratories. It delivered the Hubble Space Telescope and then returned twice to service it. It flew twice to the Russian Space Station MIR and then 13 times to the International Space Station."

The Discovery is linked to many historic firsts. It was first to return to space after fatal accidents destroyed its sister ships, Challenger and Columbia. It was the first to have a woman pilot. And Neal says that, despite the inevitable dangers of spaceflight, Discovery has played a major role in making it more routine.

“Certainly since the space shuttle began to fly, we’ve had people going up five, six, seven eight, nine times a year," she says. "We had no precedent for flying into space for 30 years in the same vehicles over and over. That’s approaching routine spaceflight."

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 crew on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway.
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 crew on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway.

NASA plans two more missions, one each for the remaining two orbiters, Endeavor and Atlantis, before the Shuttle program ends later this year.

NASA will then have to rely on European, Russian and Japanese rocket launches to carry astronauts and supplies into orbit until commercial U.S. space ferries become fully operational, possibly within the next five years. In the meantime, plans are still being worked out for putting Discovery and the other retired space shuttles on permanent museum display.

You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid