Friday, March 19, 2010

Discovery's Payload Canister Arrives at Pad

The payload canister arrived at space shuttle Discovery's launch pad this morning as the calendar ticks down to a possible Easter Monday launch date.

The white, nearly 60 foot container which contains the entire cargo Discovery will carry to the International Space Station arrived early this morning, however NASA's Kennedy Space Center technicians told this reporter the payload will not be installed until after a critical meeting early next week.

Engineers are targeting March 24 to install the payload aboard Discovery.

One week ago, a possible leak was discovered in the starboard orbital maneuvering system pod tank on Discovery as the tanks in both OMS pods were being vented to prepare for the loading of fuel .

Over the last five days, technicians have begun leak checks and tests, and will perform one this weekend, to evaluate the condition of the leak.

"Engineers continue evaluating data from a pressurization test of Discovery's right reaction control system's helium system to verify the overall health of the regulators downstream of the helium isolation valves," KSC public affairs told me. "Preliminary data shows positive results for the tests."

Discovery is still targeted to lift-off on a major resupply mission to the space station on April 5.

In a worse case scenario, if there is a leak and NASA's Shuttle Management Team states they cannot fly as is, then Discovery will be returned back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for unmating to her tank.

Discovery would then be returned to her hanger for possibly two weeks of repairs, thus setting the space shuttle program back as much as two months due to the leak.

Discovery uses the OMS pod to maneuver in short bursts as the orbiter flies through space, and a leak could disable several thrusters.

A flight readiness review meeting is currently scheduled for next Friday morning at Kennedy to determine the readiness of everything associated with NASA's 131 space shuttle flight.

Once Discovery arrives on orbit, she and her crew spend two weeks in space, eight of those days docked to earth's orbital complex in space.

At the helm of Discovery will be commander Alan Poindexter. The STS-131 crew includes pilot James Dutton, Jr, and mission specialists Rick Mastracchio, Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger and Clayton Anderson.

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