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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid