Friday was Day 8 for the Space Shuttle Discovery’s mission to the International Space Station. In its last flight, Discovery is proving that even though it is NASA’s oldest and longest-serving shuttle, it remains an impressive workhorse.
On its last mission into space, Discovery ferried equipment to the Space Station. While given a long list of chores to complete on his spacewalk, shuttle astronaut Alvin Drew says he was stunned by the view.
"It looked like it was South America or the Amazon basin somewhere. It was just beautiful, the clouds, the river valleys, all the greenery: and I had to remind myself that I had work to do and I couldn’t just take in the scenery."
The 2,900 kilograms of supplies hauled to orbit in Discovery’s cargo bay included a storage module the size of a bus, where astronauts can stash hardware and spare parts and do science experiments.
The shuttle also carried a humanoid, two-armed robot. Astronaut Katherine Coleman is anxious to get Robonaut 2 out of the box to see how it performs in zero gravity.
"We want to learn those lessons here on the inside of the Space Station before we send them to the outside of the Space Station or to other planets which we need to be able to do in terms of exploring both a human presence and a robotics presence," said Coleman. "It will take both of those to get further out into the universe. And Robonaut is a good first step."
On Thursday the shuttle crew learned that their mission would be extended by two days, welcome news to Space Station Commander Scott Kelly. He said ISS is preparing to jettison a Japanese cargo craft and needs the help.
"It gives us two extra days of six people, which is a lot of crew time to get all that stuff or some of it done, before they leave and then it just helps maximize our time post undocking for things like science and other activities we have to perform on board the Space Station on a daily basis," said Kelly.
While the astronauts continue to unpack and outfit the storage module, the significance of this being Discovery’s last mission has not been lost on its crew or Capt. Steve Lindsey. "It’s been 39 missions, nearly one year on orbit and, I think about all the things that vehicle has done and it’s really inspiring to me and kind of bitter sweet, and quite frankly sad, knowing that when we land that will be it for this vehicle."
In a telephone call to the International Space Station Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama echoed those sentiments and commended the space travelers for their work.
"You are setting such a great example with your dedication, your courage, your commitment to exploration. These are traits that built America and you guys personify them."
Landing is scheduled for next Wednesday. NASA plans two more missions, one for each of the remaining two orbiters before the shuttle program ends later this year.