Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Discovery Launch Targeted for this Tuesday

NASA's Shuttle Mission Management Team announced late Tuesday that the space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank is safe to fly without the need of extra insulation foam checks and repairs.

The previous two shuttle flights saw small amounts of foam fall off the external fuel tank's ice ramps a minute or so into launch. The ramps are located at the intertank region facing the orbiter's nose. It has been shown in tests that even a .5 inch segment of foam can blast a small hole into the orbiter's surface as it flies throught the middle region of the earth's atmosphere.

However, following extensive foam tests on external tank #132 -- both in the Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building and more recently out at her ocean side launch pad -- Discovery's rust colored tank has been ruled safe for flight.

Launch of NASA's 128 space shuttle flight remains set for this Tuesday morning - early - at 1:36:02 am EDT. The launch window lasts five minutes.

Once on orbit, Discovery's crew of seven will guide their spacecraft toward a docking with the international space station two days later. On flight day four, the crew led by commander Rick "CJ" Sturckow, will use Discovery's robotic arm to grapple and remove the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module from the payload and attach it to the station.

The module is a pressurized storage unit filled with racks of experiments, fresh food, fuel tanks and equipment for the six-member crew which live aboard the orbital complex 220 miles high. In all, Leonardo will house 15,200 pounds of supplies for transfer over the the station.

Discovery's crew also includes pilot Kevin Ford, and mission specialists Jose Hernandez, Patrick Forrester, John "Danny" Olivas, Christer Fuglesang (European Space Agency) and Nicole Stott.

Stott, a former KSC orbiter process worker turned astronaut, will begin her stay aboard the space station as a member of the Expedition 20 crew. She will replace Tim Kopra who arrived for a six-week stay on July 17. Stott will return home aboard the next space shuttle flight in late-November.

There will be three spacewalks performed on flight days 5, 7 and 9, to carry out tasks from the replacement of an empty ammonia tank on the station's port truss; prepare the station's Unity node for the arrival this February of the Tranquility node; and retrieve a science experiment which had been exposed to the vacumm of space on the European Columbus module for its return to earth.

This will be Discovery's 37th space flight, having first flown into space exactly 25 years to the week of her first flight from the same launch pad.

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