Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weather moves Endeavour crew inside to discuss mission

Commander Mark Kelly discusses Endeavour's mission. (NASA)

Severe storms hammering the Florida Space Coast this morning moved the traditional media event with the crew of the next space shuttle flight from the launch pad to an indoor auditorium.

As tornado sirens sounded and rain poured down at the Kennedy Space Center, the six member flight crew for Endeavour's April flight took questions from the media during a twenty minute event.

"Thanks for coming out on this beauty Florida morning," Endeavour's commander Mark Kelly began jokingly from the press auditorium at 8:28 a.m. EDT. "It's good to be here... this is the time where our training meets the processing of our vehicle."

Kelly told the media up front how he wanted the questions to be addressed, "I'd like to keep the questions related to the mission," refering to the overwhelming questions asked recently if his wife, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will be on hand for her husband's April 19 launch.

Rep. Giffords was seriously wounded with a single gun shot to the head during a January shooting spree at a Tuscon shopping mall as she met with supporters.

"We are pretty hopeful," Kelly addressed as to Giffords ability to make it from her Houston recovery center to the Kennedy Space Center, but Kelly added that the doctors have not given her a medical approval just yet.

Kelly spoke with excitement of the significance Endeavour's prime payload will have on the science community.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer "will use the unique environment of space to study the universe and its origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter while performing precision measurements of cosmic rays composition and flux," according to AMS scientists.

The mission's commander said, "Within an hour of Greg (Johnson) and Greg (Chamitoff) attaching AMS to the space station, they will begin receiving data" on the ground.

The AMS is intended to operate through 2020 or longer while scientists from fifty-six institutions in sixteen countries perform their own studies and investigations into the cosmic rays in our galaxy.

Endeavour's all veteran space crew is led by Kelly, includes pilot Johnson, and mission specialists Michael Fincke,
Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Endeavour's mission specialist Finke will become the American with the most time in space on day twelve of Endeavour's flight having lived aboard the space station on two separate six month excursion flights.

Finke will head to earth orbit already having spent 365 days, 21 hours and 32 minutes in space. Endeavour is scheduled to land fourteen days after launch, with a possible one day extension to be discussed following Endeavour's docking to the International Space Station.

Endeavour's all veteran space crew is led by Kelly, and includes pilot Johnson, and mission specialists Fincke, Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Launch of Endeavour on her twenty-fifth and final space flight is set for April 19 at 7:48:40 p.m.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Europe's Ariane 5 rocket aborts seconds before launch

Ariane 5 core engine ignites then is shutdown today. (arianespace)

Europe's workhorse in launching commercial satellites suffered an on-the-pad launch abort today seconds before it's boosters were to ignite.

The Vulcain 2 single main engine ignites in the final seven seconds before launch. During this time, computers in milliseconds checkout every aspect of the rocket to ensure it it safe to launch.

The engine ignited on time and was throttled up to nominal chamber speed. Spoke billowed up to the height of the rocket as the engine was commanded to shut down.

An issue with the engine was likely detected according to arianespace, however it is too soon to know the cause for another day.

"The cryogenic main engine’s checkout process was not completed successfully, preventing the boosters’ ignition and thereby aborting the launch," Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall stated minutes after the shutdown.

"The Ariane 5 and its two payloads remain in a safe mode on the launch pad, and the vehicle will be returned to the Final Assembly Building for diagnostics," Le Gall added.

During the next week, Ariane 5 will be positioned in it's vertical hanger and studied.

The core engine under goes a chill down process just over three hours before ignition, and after the super cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuels are loaded into the main stage ninety minutes earlier.

As the main engine ignites seven seconds before the twin boosters ignite, computers on board the Ariane take over three seconds after engine ignition to verify the rocket is ready.

Twin fuel lines are retracted near the top of the rocket as the engine nears 100%.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Space station crew bids farewell to Japan's supply craft

Space station astronauts release Japan's cargo craft. (NASA)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station today released a trash-filled Japanese supply craft out into space on course for it's fiery reentry on Tuesday.

Docked with the Earth-facing port on the station's Harmony node, Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle was grappled by a 58-foot robotic arm at 4:11 a.m. EDT.

Sixteen bolts mating the craft with Harmony were then released allowing for NASA astronaut Cady Coleman to slowly move it out and away from her control board located in the Cupola module (above).

Coleman then unsnared the golden cargo craft releasing it from the station's arm at 11:46 a.m., as the two crafts sail 224 miles high over the eastern United States.

Loaded with nearly two tonnes of trash from recent resupply flights, the craft spent 59 days, 22 hours and 38 minutes docked with the Harmony node.

The Japanese cargo craft began separating "very stable" at a speed of 0.1 meters p
er second. Astronauts then sent commands to perform two burns (IDM 1 and 2) to separate it from the orbiting outpost minutes later to increase it's departure rate.

"It brought an amazing amount of supplies that were very much needed here on the space station," Coleman said following release.

Italian Paolo Nespoli and Coleman completed the last storage of trash into the H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI 2, or "White Stork" in Japan, during the past week. Hatches were then closed and sealed between the Harmony node and the supply craft at about 10:45 a.m. on Sunday.

Colman and Nespoli also folded sheets of paper in the days leading to today to make origami cranes in sympathy and remembrance of those lost and suffering in Japan, and the country's work to rebuild from the tragedy.

The Japanese craft's departure was managed by the newly restored flight control room located in Tsukuba, twenty-five minutes by automobile northeast of Tokyo.

A control room which has several of their own
origami cranes sitting a top computers.

Wrought with damage from the earthquake on March 11, the control room performed it's first test after resuming control from NASA Mission Control.

The "White Stork" will sail for another day before making it's destructive fiery return to earth over the Pacific Ocean beginning at 11:09 p.m on Tuesday.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Space shuttle veteran eyes her space station future

Charles Atkeison, daughter Emily and Stephanie Wilson at Tellus.

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson is no stranger to working in space, and after three space shuttle flights she looks forward to the day when she will make a fourth visit as a resident aboard the International Space Station.

She has flown aboard the space shuttle Discovery on three flights beginning in 2006 in support of construction and resupply of earth's orbital outpost in space.

On Friday, Ms. Wilson brought the home movies from her most recent flight last April on NASA's 131st space shuttle mission to share with an audience at the Tellus Science Center in northwest Georgia.

Ms. Wilson, a graduate from Harvard University and holds two engineering degrees, spoke about her aerospace career and just what it feels like to launch aboard a space shuttle.

"That eight and one-half minute ride goes by very quickly," Ms. Wilson explained. "It's definitely an exciting ride. After three times, I'm still not tired of it. If I had the chance to ride again I would."

Her third lift-off left a present for launch spectators in the form of colorful ribbons of exhaust which hung in the predawn skies over the Kennedy Space Center from the exhaust the shuttle's twin boosters created as the sun rose minutes after lift-off.

The astronaut-engineer discussed the accomplishments on each of her flights, including the delivery of an ammonia tank for cooling the electronics of the space station, and the delivery of a supply module full of water, fuel and experiments for the station's crew of six.

"It's been a great career, a great life time to see the space station grow," the Massachusetts native told this aerospace reporter on Friday.

Wilson's interest in astronomy began as a young girl looking up into the night sky of her Boston backyard, "I always wondered what was out in the universe. (Asking) wouldn't it be wonderful to visit some place in the solar system or the universe."

Graduating from Harvard, she became an engineer on the Titan IV rocket. Ms. Wilson later received a degree as an aerospace engineer from the University of Texas, continuing her growth in space related fields.

"I wanted to work some how in the space industry, whether it be working with missions, working with launch vehicles, working with robotic space craft," the 43-year old shared of her thoughts in the early-1990's. "I was very fortunate to do that."

She was hired by NASA as an engineer on the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, ensuring it was properly pointed the right way as it soared around the large gaseous planet.

As the final two space shuttle flights prepare for their launches this year, Wilson looked fondly ahead, "We're getting ready to retire the shuttle, so it's bittersweet for a lot of us to see that era end."

"We're looking forward to a new era," Ms. Wilson continued, "where we will be able to go outside of low earth orbit and experience bigger and better things."

NASA's only female African-American astronaut to have made multiple journeys into earth orbit, Stephanie Wilson's work at NASA has not yet concluded as she strives for one last flight.

As she paused and reflected on her past for a moment, she glanced up with a smile saying, "I hope to have a longer (flight) that will last about six months."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Europe's Ariane 5 to launch satellites for UAE and Africa

A European heavy lift launcher is set to deliver two communications satellites into earth orbit on Wednesday, including the first satellite built for use by the private sector of Africa.

The two satellites -- Yahsat Y1A and Intelsat New Dawn -- will be placed into a geostationary orbit to begin a fifteen year life to provide direct communications to the public and government's of multiple countries.

Lift-off of the Ariane 5 rocket with it's dual-stack of satellites from Kourou, French Guiana is planned for Wednesday at 5:45:07 p.m. EDT (9:45 p.m. GMT) -- the start of a 67 minute launch window.

The Yahsat Y1A satellite for Al Yah Satellite Communications Company will operate over the Indian Ocean near the coastline of Somalia to relay both communications and data streams to homes, businesses and government buildings in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The Yahsat Y1A will also relay high-definition television and high speed Internet through it's 25 KU-Band and 14-C-Band transponders.

Al Yah stated to this reporter that Y1A "will be followed by the launch of Y1B in the second half of 2011".

Y1A will be the first satellite for Al Yah which is a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi government’s strategic investment buisness Mubadala Development Company.

Yahsat will become the first satellite for UAE with a secure Ka-band transponder to support private military communications within it's footprint.

Located in the United Arab Emirate's capital, Abu Dhabi, Mubadala is currently sponsoring several UAE students in training at a few NASA facilities across America.

The Orbital Sciences-built Intelsat New Dawn satellite (above, on March 22) will be used by Africa's private companies, and provide wireless telecommunications, multimedia content, and broadband Internet from it's location over Lake Victoria in central Africa.

New Dawn will use 24 Ku-Band and 28 C-Band transponders set at 36 MHz in support of high speed data flow.

Five hours prior to launch, the control team will begin loading the super cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuels into the main stage of the Ariane 5.

As the countdown marches toward launch, communications and data checks with the payloads and the rocket's instruments will be checked.

The Ariane 5's core single Vulcain 2 engine will then ignite seven seconds prior to launch, and brought up to proper thrust.

The rocket's twin solid fueled boosters will then ignite releasing the several million pounds of thrust and pushing 22,187 pounds of payload upward and faster to escape earth's gravity.

The Ariane will begin a four-second pitch program high over the Atlantic coastline twelve seconds after lift-off to begin the craft's eastward heading toward a 6-degree inclination.

Soaring about 42 miles above the southern Atlantic waters, the twin booster rockets will empty their fuel and separate 150 seconds into it's flight.

One minute later, the rocket's protective payload fairing will split vertically and fall away as the Ariane enters the first traces of space.

Nearly nine minutes after departing Kourou, the Vulcain 2 engine will shutdown and the main stage will separate, and the engine of the second stage will begin it's burn for several minutes.

The satellite duo will arrive into it's injection elliptical orbit of 155 by 22,345 miles.

Geostationary orbit is an orbital plane above the equator located 22,250 miles over a fixed location, and will stay at that one fixed location until acted upon by a force.

Twenty-seven minutes after launch, Yahsat Y1A will separate from the rocket's upper stage as it soars 292 miles above earth.

New Dawn will then separate and fly free eight minutes later as the upper stage swings the satellite higher in it's elliptical orbit 1,582 miles above the planet.

The next Ariane 5 launch is planned for mid-May with another pair of satellites.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Have a blast this spring at U.S. Space & Rocket Center

Sunrise greets space shuttle Pathfinder at Rocket Center. (Atkeison)

Spring break in the Peach State is nine days of excitement spent on the beaches of Georgia's scenic coastline or attending golf's number one tournament in Augusta, the Masters.

The same drive time from Atlanta will also allow for an overnight trip to neighboring Alabama's top attraction, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Nicknamed Rocket City, USA, Huntsville is home to the massive space center which lies about four hours west from the north Georgia region.

Home to the popular U.S. Space Camp, this north Alabama space attraction has a large array of both child and adult friendly activities and rocket-styled rides.

Over the past year, the Davidson Center for Space Exploration museum has under gone a sweeping upgrade in it's look and feel as you walk past the historic memorabilia. New artifacts have been added such as an actual moon rock which was brought back aboard Apollo 12, America's second lunar landing.

The command module Casper which orbited the moon for several days during the Apollo 16 mission in 1972 is on display surrounded by a space suit, and an Apollo guidance computer built in 1968 which had the memory of just 72 kilobytes.

A full size lunar lander spacecraft is also on display along with a moon buggy at it's side.

Running horizontal across the length of Davidson is an actual Saturn 5 moon rocket which would have launched on one of the three canceled Apollo flights in 1973. Step up close and view the entire rocket stage by stage. The rocket's five main engines greet you as you walk into this beautifully laid out 21st century museum.

Outdoors is breath taking in it's own right as you step outside the Davidson Center.

Get vertical and soar 140-feet straight up in two seconds with the towering Space Shot ride; or take a spin in the comfortable G-Force trainer and experience three times your body's weight for several minutes just as the real astronauts feel during launch and landing.

The space center is home to two IMAX theaters, and a grand rock climbing wall spanning nearly 25-feet high with enough width to support eight climbers.

Based on the Martian Olympus Mons, the highest volcano in our solar system, boys and girls will enjoy the rock climbing wall so much they will likely go back two and three times. Adults will find the exercise-driven wall as a great physical and mental challenge as they scale the Mars' themed exhibit.

The wall sits next to an incredible futuristic ride known as the Mars Mission Simulator. Take a realistic ride over the landscape of the Red Planet and then below it's surface as you pitch up and down and yaw left and right on a roller coaster of excitement.

The center's main IMAX theater is unlike most theaters with it's 180-degree field of view. This space reporter agrees with the staff, the seats in the top half give your eyes the sense of being there. The IMAX movie now showing is Hubble, which looks at the history and repair missions of the famous space telescope, including interviews and behind the scenes video from the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis' 2009 flight.

Playing in a second theater in the Davidson Center's upper level is the IMAX prehistoric science movie Sea Rex 3D, in which one woman learns about a rare undersea mammal very similar to the T-Rex.

The space and rocket center is located near the secured gates of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, home to the early days of American rocketry and the creation of the 363-foot tall Saturn 5 moon rocket in the 1960's.

Today, Marshall is home to America's space science control center for the International Space Station. Each day, astronauts orbiting 225 miles above earth talk with controllers at Marshall about select science experiments being worked on in microgravity.

At the space and rocket center, several space station related exhibits can be found, including a mock up of the station's Destiny laboratory.

This year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, and will also witness the final two flights of a space shuttle. What better way to mark the occasions than an up close visit to the only complete full scale space shuttle mock up.

Known as Pathfinder, this mock up of a real shuttle orbiter rests a top an external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters. Visitors are able to walk underneath and around the complete space shuttle stack.

Built at Marshall in 1977, the Pathfinder was constructed as a test model to check how future orbiters would be hoisted up for mating to it's rust colored external tank.

Moving across the center's grounds is a rocket garden featuring several of the converted missiles and rockets which carried America's first astronauts into space and on to the moon.

The majestic space center's skyline includes the only vertical full scale Saturn 5 mock-up.

A Saturn 1B rocket used to ferry crews to the Skylab space station stands towering the smaller rockets, including America's first rocket used to journey Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into space fifty years ago, the Mercury-Redstone.

The Space & Rocket Center is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. central time. The center is closed on Christmas Eve and Day and New Years Eve and Day.

Ticket prices very upon age and attractions, such as the museum and the IMAX theater. Click here to view the center's current pricing.

Looking ahead to this summer, make plans for you and your child to attend the hottest overnight camping trip on and off the planet -- Space Camp.

Children ages 9 and above can attend Space Camp for two days or up to a week, and can even bring an adult for some of the camp programs they support.

The camp features tours of the space and rocket center, including the rides and rock wall; unique science experiments with camp councilors, and your own bunk bed and locker in the futuristic habitat module.

One councilor this aerospace reporter spoke with explained how in awe he is as the young children leave Space Camp with a better understanding of not just the rockets but the science they learn in just a short time.

"I find it so inspirational to see the young boys and girls we teach leave here with an excitement not just for space flight, but the science here on earth and out there in space," Roger St. Louis, a retired school teacher, stated as we stood underneath Pathfinder.

Mr. St. Louis discussed how important it is in today's age to get the youngster interested in learning, and "what better way than the fun approach we have here at Space Camp".

Select Scout troops across Georgia can enjoy a special weekend at the camp each year, which acts as a stepping stone to inspire the youth to want to come back for the longer stays.

Mark your calendar today and make a point to spend a few days in Huntsville with your child as the space center continues the celebration Marshall's golden anniversary.

Officially dedicated in July 1960, Marshall Space Flight Center grew following President Kennedy's 1961 challenge to land a man on the moon before 1970.

As the day turned to night and the stars shown brightly over Pathfinder, one can image what it would be like to sail upon the ocean of space as you look up at the orbiter with a star laden night sky.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

American and two Russians depart space station

Soyuz TMA-01M rests in northern Kazakhstan today. (NASA)

One American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts completed their day stay aboard the International Space Station this morning, departing and landing on the snowy region in Kazakhstan.

Outgoing station commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly along with Russian's Alexander Kalery and Oleg Skripochka said their goodbyes to the new commander of the outpost Dmitry Kondratyev, and flight engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli on Tuesday evening.

Kondratyev officially became commander of the station during a change of command ceremony on Monday.

"Have fun Scott, soft landings," American Coleman shouted over to her departing NASA crew mate minutes before Kondratyev closed the station's inner hatch.

"It's quite here now. It's hard to believe they're going back to earth," Coleman said to European astronaut Nespoli with the hatch fully sealed.

The hatches between the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft and the space station's Poisk module were officially closed at 9:25 p.m. EDT, on Tuesday. Leak checks followed to ensure proper air pressure inside the spacecraft.

During this time, an LED light indicated that the inner hatch was not sealed properly. Trouble shooting discovered that the light was faulty following a thirty minute leak check.

The new Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft is replacing the older outdated analog controlled spacecraft. Russia's space agency informs this reporter that the new craft carries "new in-flight measurement systems, new guidance, navigation and control equipment". New avionic computer systems on the craft saved 150 pounds of weight.

The Soyuz undocked on time at 12:27 a.m. today over western China with Kelly, Kalery and Skripochka having spent 157 days living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Just after undocking, the crew aboard Soyuz performed two tests and two separation burns to carry the craft out and away from the orbital outpost.

Five minutes following separation, Soyuz stopped and began a station-keeping mode beginning at 50 meters (164 feet) away to check several systems on the new craft, including the avionics system on it's Jupiter panel.

The Soyuz orbited the earth twice before firing it's engines for just over four minutes to slow the craft down and begin it's deorbit at 3:03 a.m.

Touchdown occurred on time at 3:53 a.m. today, upon the snowy desert region in northern Kazakhstan, and wrapping up 159 days in space.

Seconds after landing in an artic cold, windy region located 49 miles north of A, the craft tip on it's side as winds of 36 m.p.h. pushed the Soyuz parachutes caring the craft 24 yards across the deep snow.

Kelly stated a few weeks ago his hopes of returning to space one day soon. His twin brother is scheduled to arrive at the space station for a much shorter visit on April 21 aboard the shuttle Endeavour.

Kalery, the landing marked a huge milestone for him and long duration space flight. He now is listed as second for the most time in space by a human 770 days during five separate flights.

The next crew to launch to the space station of one American and two Russians will join the new Expedition 27 crew during the second week of April.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shuttle Endeavour arrives at launch pad for April liftoff

Shuttle Endeavour during sunrise today a top pad 39A. (NASA)

One day after space shuttle Discovery returned home from her final voyage, sister ship Endeavour was moved out to her ocean side launch pad to prepare for her final flight in April.

Shuttle Endeavour left the massive Vehicle Assembly Building last night at 7:56 p.m. EST, to begin the 3 mile trek upon a gravel-covered road out to launch pad 39-A here at the Kennedy Space Center.

Space center employees who worked to prepare the entire space shuttle stack for launch gathered
along with their families in the darkness outside to applaud their work as the pride of America's space program inched away from the assembly building.

"I had never witnessed a roll out before, much less ride on the Mobile Launch Platform! Thousands of people gathered to share in the event," Endeavour pilot Gregory H. Johnson wrote from Kennedy this morning of his upcoming spacecraft.

Moving at 1 m.p.h. a top the mobile launch platform, the tank like treads of the mobile crawler transport delivered Endeavour to a precise point a top launch pad 39-A at 3:49 a.m. this morning.

NASA's newest orbiter is scheduled to lift-off on April 19 at 7:48:40 p.m. to begin her twenty-fifth and final space flight on a two week flight to the International Space Station.

Two days following launch, Endeavour's commander Mark Kelly will guide the orbiter in for a docking at about 4:40 p.m.

The shuttle's six man crew will then get to work to deploy a $1.5 billion particle physics detector on the outside of the space station.

Endeavour's prime payload is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer which will be plucked from the aft section of the orbiter's bay by Endeavour's robotic arm and moved out and away. The space station's 58-foot arm will grapple the AMS and place it on the Starboard 3 truss segment's payload attach site.

The spectrometer "will use the unique environment of space to study the universe and its origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter while performing precision measurements of cosmic rays composition and flux," according to AMS scientists.

The AMS is intended to operate through 2020 or longer while scientists from fifty-six institutions in sixteen countries perform their own studies and investigations into the cosmic rays in our galaxy.

Endeavour's all veteran space crew is led by Kelly, includes pilot Johnson, and mission specialists Michael Fincke,
Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

The crew are due arrive on the Space Coast to practice launch pad emergency drills on March 29, and will wrap up their stay with a mock countdown with the launch team on April 1.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Delta IV rocket to launch military satellite Friday

A powerful Delta IV rocket will carry a classified reconnaissance satellite for the U.S. military into earth orbit on Friday from America's Space Coast.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV-medium will carry the NROL-27 for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office in support of the military's national defense.

Friday's launch will mark the fifteenth Delta IV launch since 2002.

Launch of the Boeing-built Delta IV with it's classified military payload is planned for March 11 at 5:57 p.m. EST (2257 GMT), from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch window is unknown.

Cape weather out of Patrick, AFB states weather is forecast 90% favorable at launch time.

As the Delta IV reaches zero a top launch complex 37B, the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 liquid fueled single core engine will ignite, followed by twin Graphite-Epoxy Motors or GEM-60 solid fueled rockets to send the rocket aloft.

Several minutes into the launch, the twin boosters will separate followed by the clam shell payload fairing a minute later.

The Delta IV will then soar eastward out over the Atlantic waters as it heads into a cloudless blue sky thirty minutes prior to sunset.

Once the 4 meter wide payload fairing separates, the Air Force will put the final minutes of the Delta's ascent into a news blackout as it carries it's payload to a secret orbital plane.

This launch will mark the third NROL satellite to be placed in orbit in 2011.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Shuttle Discovery glides home completing her final flight

Discovery rolls out on runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center. (NASA)

Gliding home to a landing after a successful two weeks in orbit, space shuttle Discovery completed her final space flight after twenty-seven years of service.

As landing approached, Discovery performed what NASA labeled "her victory lap around the globe" as she begun her 202 and final orbit of her last flight.

Discovery commander Steve Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe fired the craft's orbital maneuvering system engines for 157 seconds at 10:52 a.m. EST, to slow Discovery down by 188 m.p.h, allowing Discovery to begin her free fall out of earth orbit.

The burn occurred over the east central Indian Ocean off the coast of Malaysia at an altitude of 218 miles above midway through Discovery's 202 orbit of her flight.

Discovery was flying at this time with the tail in the direction of travel and payload bay toward earth.

As Discovery's final minutes in space tick down, the spacecraft's nose will pitch forward 140-degrees as Lindsey lines up Discovery for reentry into the earth's atmosphere.

As Discovery left the last traces of space, the orbiter hit the upper layer of the earth's atmosphere at 11:27 a.m. Friction caused by the fast speed of Discovery against the atmosphere saw temperatures of nearly 3,000 degrees bake the orbiter's belly, nose and wing leading edges.

The orbiter made landfall crossing Florida's western coastline near Sarasota at an altitude of 22 miles high.

Soaring into the beautiful blue skies over the Kennedy Space Center, Boe then armed the landing gear. As the trio of wheel struts dropped down, Lindsey pitched the orbiter's nose up as the White Dove inched closer to her runway's center line.

With winds gusting to near 25 m.p.h. down runway 15, Lindsey landed Discovery at a speed of 195 knots at 11:57:17 a.m.

Boe then deployed a drag chute to help slow the historic spacecraft down just second before Lindsey brought the nose down.

The spacecraft's wheels slowed and Discovery's movement under her own power come to a final stop at 11:58:14 a.m.

"Houston, Discovery, for the final time - wheels stopped," the ship's commander exclaimed.

"Discovery, Houston, great job by you and your crew," mission control CAPCOM Charles Hobaugh radioed back. "That was a great landing in tough conditions, and it was an awesome docked mission you all had. You were able to take Discovery up to a full 365 degr... days of actual time on orbit. I think you'd call that a fleet leader and a leader of any manned vehicle for time in orbit. So job well done."

As Discovery stopped on the 9,700-foot point of the runway, the most launched manned spacecraft in world history had completed a total of 5,831 orbits of the earth since her first flight on STS-41D in August 1984.

It was the 76th landing upon the Space Coast by a space shuttle orbiter since 1984.

Discovery's odometer now reads 148,221,675 miles flown during thirty-nine space flights.

Her combined missions during nearly twenty-seven years will have kept her flying a full 365 days in space.

On hand near the runway to cheer and witness the beautiful touchdown were dozens of space center employees, several of the mission's flight directors and NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.

Discovery is expected to spend the year being cleaned up of any toxic fuels, and the removal of unneeded weight located inside the craft.

The plan is for Discovery to be located to her new home in Washington, D.C. and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 2013. There, she will be able to be viewed by the world up close and in person.

Four hours following the landing, Discovery is expected to begin it's three mile journey to the orbiter processing facility bay two, and will be deserviced for the final time.

Discovery's final crew are scheduled to depart the Space Coast for Houston's Ellington Air Field on Thursday morning.

Discovery's crew prepares for for Florida landing today

On the heels of spending thirteen days in space on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, the space shuttle Discovery is in the final hours of her final spaceflight as her crew of six prepare for landing today.

Lead by commander Steve Lindsey, Discovery's all veteran crew includes pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott.

Light scattered clouds at 3,000 and 20,000 feet, with wind gusts near 21 knots down the runway is forecast for landing. A 10-knot crosswind is also within limits for landing.

At 8:12 a.m. EST, the crew will begin closing the shuttle's twin payload bay doors for landing.

Lindsey and Boe will fire the craft's two orbital maneuvering system engines for 151 seconds at 10:52:09 a.m., to slow Discovery down by 188 m.p.h, allowing Discovery to loose speed and begin her free fall out of earth orbit.

Discovery will be flying at this time with the tail in the direction of travel and payload bay toward earth.

As Discovery's final minutes in space tick down, the spacecraft's nose will pitch forward 140-degrees as Lindsey lines up Discovery for reentry into the earth's atmosphere.

Entry interface comes thirty minutes prior to touchdown at an altitude of 400,000 feet on Discovery's 202 orbit of the STS-133 flight.

As Discovery glides over the Pacific Ocean and up over the Caribbean Sea, Lindsey will have the shuttle in a steep dive to prevent drag on the powerless glider.

Discovery will cross over central Florida just south of Tampa Bay and two minutes later south of Orlando, Discovery will head into Kennedy, performing a 252-degree left overhead turn into runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

Touchdown is planned for 11:57 a.m., closing out Discovery's thirty-ninth and final spaceflight which have spanned nearly twenty-seven years.

NASA has not activate Edwards, AFB in California as a back up landing site today, only Kennedy.

Thursday's weather is nearly 100% unfavorable as a frontal system brings storms and possible hail to the Cape Canaveral area. Discovery can stay aloft as late as Friday if necessary.

On hand at the runway to welcome the crew will be one of Discovery's flight director,
Royce Renfrew, and NASA asst. administrator Lori Garver to name a few.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Discovery's crew prepares for Wednesday's Florida landing

Pilot Eric Boe practices landing Discovery today. (NASA)

The six member crew aboard the space shuttle Discovery spent today powering up systems and preparing for the spacecraft for landing and closing out her thirty-ninth and final spaceflight.

NASA states favorable weather is on tap for tomorrow's 11:57 a.m. EST, landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

Wednesday's weather outlook for the Space Coast is calling for scattered clouds by late morning, and winds out of the east southeast at about 15 m.p.h.

On Wednesday, Discovery commander Steve Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe will fire the craft's orbital maneuvering system engines for three minutes at 10:52 a.m. EST, to slow Discovery down by 250 m.p.h, allowing Discovery to begin her free fall out of earth orbit.

Discovery will be flying at this time with the tail in the direction of travel and payload bay toward earth.

As Discovery's final minutes in space tick down, the spacecraft's nose will pitch forward 140-degrees as Lindsey lines up Discovery for reentry into the earth's atmosphere.

Entry interface comes thirty minutes prior to touchdown at an altitude of 400,000 feet on Discovery's 203 orbit of the STS-133 flight.

NASA will not activate Edwards, AFB in California as a back up landing site on Wednesday, only Kennedy. Discovery can stay aloft as late as Friday if necessary.

When Discovery rolls to a stop tomorrow, the most launched manned spacecraft in world history will have traveled a total of 5,831 orbits of the earth since her first flight in August 1984.

Discovery's odometer will read 148,000,000 miles flown during thirty-nine space flights.

Her combined missions during nearly twenty-seven years will have kept her flying a full 365 days in space.

At 8:35 a.m. today, pilot Boe sat in the commander's seat and used PILOT software on a laptop to practice a few landing's simulations into the space center's runway. Lindsey looked over his shoulder while commenting as he worked the joy stick.

At noon today, Discovery's crew will pay tribute to their spacecraft as she sails into the sunset of her career.

As Discovery flew into the darkness of space earlier today, Lindsey and Boe fired the ship's reaction control system jets for several seconds to test how plume reacts in space as a test for the U.S. military.

Known as Rambo, the jets were fired at 7:23 a.m. while data was collected by a nearby military satellite in this experiment for future military spacecraft such as the X-37B space plane, which continues to soar in earth orbit one hundred miles higher than the shuttle.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Departure Images: Discovery leaves space station

A White Dove left her nest this morning and flew off into the sunset one last time.

These real time images of space shuttle Discovery's departure of the International Space Station were as dramatic and breathtaking as the orbiter left her port-of-call beginning at 7:00 a.m. EST today.

After performing a 360-degree fly around of the complex by pilot Eric Boe, Discovery fired her jets twice and set sail upon the ocean of space to begin her final two days ever in space.

Discovery, with her payload bay now empty and her robotic arm attached to the orbiter boom sensor in the form of a "7", shown brightly in the blackness of space this morning. All images are from NASA TV.

Discovery soars over the Atlantic 650-feet from space station.

Sunrise splashes across space station as it sails near Discovery.

Shuttle Discovery undocks from the space station

Discovery's view of space station 222 miles above earth. (NASA)

(UPDATED: 8:40 a.m. EST) -- The space shuttle Discovery departed the International Space Station today for the thirteenth and final time, after completing an extended stay aboard earth's outpost in space.

Undocking from orbiting complex occurred on time at 7:00 a.m. EST, as the two space crafts soared 220 miles high in the darkness of space, above an area northeast of Papua New Guinea in the southern Pacific Ocean.

Three minutes later, station commander Scott Kelly rang the traditional bell and announced, "Discovery, departing."

Discovery spent eight days, sixteen hours and forty-six minutes docked to the orbiting lab as the crew of six delivered tones of supplies, a storage module and performed two spacewalks in support of station maintenance.

As the latches holding the two craft together released, Discovery slowly pulled away at .29 fps in the direction of travel with the station, and with the shuttle's belly in the direction of travel.

Nine minutes after Discovery was 110 feet ahead of the space station as she moved out to a distance of four hundred feet.

"Discovery has been a great ship and has really supported ISS more than any other shuttle -- fair winds and following seas," Kelly typed out in a message on Twitter as the shuttle began her fly around of the complex.

Twenty-three minutes after undocking, Discovery pilot and Atlanta native Eric Boe took over and began flying the orbiter in a 360-degree orbital ballet in space.

Boe flew the shuttle to a distance of 650-feet away by 7:38 a.m., and was ninety-degrees of the circle around station.

As Boe flew the White Dove around station even mission control in Houston marveled about the excellent views of the shuttle and station as they passed over the northwest coast of Africa.

At 8:09 a.m. Discovery performed the first of two separation burns as she began her departure of the station.

We really enjoyed your company onboard, and I'm really proud of what we accomplished," Kelly radioed shuttle commander Steve Lindsey as Discovery sailed into the sunset of her storied career.

Ninety-seven minutes after undocking, Discovery's rear and nose jets were fired again in a second separation burn 8,300 feet away from the space station.

Earlier in their morning, Discovery's crew were awoken at 3:23 a.m. with the music from Star Trek, including these special words by actor William Shatner played over the famous music:

“Space, the final frontier," Shatner began. "These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission, to seek out new science; to build new outposts; to bring nations together on the final frontier... To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

Today's departure concluded the final visit by Discovery to a space station as she sails into the sunset of her 27 year career.

Discovery first visited Russia's space station MIR in 1995 in an orbital fly around of the complex, and three years later made the only docking with MIR on STS-91.

That flight in 1998 also marked the final MIR docking by a space shuttle as NASA and Russia joined together to begin construction of the International Space Station. Discovery first visited the new station in May 1999 when it only consisted of two segments -- Russia's Zarya and America's Unity node.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Shuttle Discovery prepares for Monday's undocking

Crew's gather in the closing days of Discovery's flight to station. (NASA)

Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery are spending their final hours aboard the International Space Station today as they load final experiments prior to closing the hatches for Monday's undocking.

Today will see a farewell ceremony as the shuttle crew bids farewell to the space station following eight days docked to the orbiting outpost.

The two crews will begin a brief farewell ceremony at 3:33 p.m. EST, today followed by a final handshake between station commander Scott Kelly with shuttle commander Steve Lindsey.

The three hatches which connect Discovery with station will be closed and sealed as the crews prepare for tomorrow's departure at 7:00 a.m.

Discovery's crew of six have spent the weekend assisting the station's crew of six with the labor intensive chores of unpacking several tones of supplies and equipment which have arrived at the outpost over the past six weeks.

In fact, Discovery's crew were given two extra days in space just to help the station's crew get ahead of unstowing and then unboxing the science equipment, computers and fresh supplies carried up by Discovery in a bus sized module.

The module is known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a 21-foot long cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will begin to free up more space inside the station's working and living segments for the crew.

For NASA and the space community, Monday's undocking will conclude the final visit by Discovery to a space station as she sails into the twilight of her 27 year career.

Discovery first visited Russia's space station MIR in 1995 in an orbital fly around of the complex, and three years later made the only docking with MIR on STS-91.

That flight in 1998 also marked the final MIR docking by a space shuttle as NASA and Russia joined together to begin construction of the International Space Station. Discovery first visited the new station in May 1999 when it only consisted of two segments -- Russia's Zarya and America's Unity node.

As Discovery prepare to undock from her port-of-call, she completes her thirteenth and final docking to earth's outpost in space.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Air Force's secret space shuttle arrives in orbit

The second Air Force X-37B mini shuttle prepares for launch. (USAF)

A second space shuttle is soaring tonight upon the ocean of space, this one unmanned and half the size of NASA's orbiters, following it's lift-off today from Cape Canaveral for the Air Force.

This is the second X-37B space plane which closely resembles the space shuttle to reach orbit in less than one year.

The nearly ten-foot high, twenty-nine foot long X-37B has a wing span of fifteen feet from tip to tip, and is designed to increase the military's knowledge of reentry style vehicles which can return experiments from space.

Launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5-501 rocket with the X-37B a top occurred on time on March 5 at 5:46 p.m. EST, from complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

"Today, we took another important step with the successful launch of the second OTV, enabling the RCO (Rapid Capabilities Office) to further experiment with the vehicle and its ability to operate in low-Earth orbit," the vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems Craig Cooning stated today.

"Close teamwork between the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the United Launch Alliance Atlas team, and the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station made this launch a success," Cooning added.

Nearly four minutes into the flight and sixty five miles high, the protective nose fairing separated from the Atlas, exposing the mini space shuttle to the first traces on space.

One minute later the core booster completed it's job and seconds later separated away. The upper stage Centaur engine then ignited seconds later to carry the shuttle to an altitude above 250 miles.

This flight marks the Atlas 5's twenty-fourth launch since it's first flight in 2002; and the 606th Atlas rocket launch since 1957.

It was the second launch attempt after stormy weather canceled Friday's attempt.

Today's attempt was delayed over ninety minutes as technicians replaced a faulty regulator valve which supports helium purge at the launch pad.

Several minutes into the launch, the Air Force sent the public into a news black out as the top secret developmental Orbital Test Vehicle headed into it's initial orbit.

Several of this X-37B's flight details will go beyond the tests of the 224 day first X-37B flight last year. A payload or two will be flown on board the spacecraft.

"We look forward to testing enhancements to the landing profile," X-37B program manager for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office Lt. Col. Troy Giese stated. Giese's office leads the Department of Defense's OTV program.

The spacecraft will settle into an average orbit of between 350-400 statue miles.

ULA performed a fueled mock countdown of the Atlas 5 on February 4.

The Boeing Satellite Systems space plane uses bipropellant thrusters developed by American Pacific Corporation's In-Space Propulsion, and are used for vernier reaction control to achieve orbit; to change it's attitude while on orbit; and to leave orbit.

NASA begun the X-37 project in 1999, however the space agency handed it over to the Arlington, Virginia based DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) five years later.

DARPA, originally formed in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, is an office designed to prevent technological surprises against the United States, such as the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957.

The OTV project partnership between the military, DARPA and NASA was announced in October 2006.

The first flight lifted-off last April 22 and flew what the Air Force deemed a successful flight of the unmanned craft. The only known issue was a tire which blew after landing upon runway 12 at Vandenberg, AFB in California.

The vehicle's return home is expected around December 1 with an auto-landing at Vandenberg.

"We may extend the mission to enhance our understanding of the OTV capabilities," Giese added, "especially since the performance data from the first flight suggest that the vehicle could have gone beyond the 270-day requirement."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wind, rain and low clouds delay Atlas launch 24 hours

An Atlas 5 sits through stormy weather on Friday. (ULA)

Low clouds, high winds and rain scrubbed today's planned launch of an Atlas rocket which is to carry an unmanned military mini space shuttle.

The launch team is now in a 24-hour launch turn around as they try again on Saturday at 4:09 p.m. EST.

The weather forecast is not as promising for Saturday with only a 30% chance of favorable weather at launch time.

As the final minutes of a two hour launch window neared, the launch team took one final poll and the range stated they were no-go due to the weather over Cape Canaveral.

Taurus XL fails to get NASA Glory into orbit

(UPDATED: 8:10 am EST) -- A NASA satellite bound to study earth's atmosphere failed to reach orbit today when it's payload fairing failed to separate three minutes after launch.

"The vehicle speed error is indicating under performance, which is expected due to a fairing not separating", Launch commentator Richard Haenke reported at five minutes into the flight.

Today's Taurus XL rocket launch is the third failure in the last four launches of the solid fueled rocket.

NASA's Glory spacecraft was to have joined several current satellites in orbit known as the A-Train as they research the composition of the earth's atmosphere, or "biosphere and climate", according to Goddard Space Flight Center.

Launch of an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL 3110 rocket with Glory occurred on time at 5:09:43 a.m. EST (2:09 a.m. local time) from space launch complex 576-East at Vandenberg, AFB in California.

This ninth flight of a Taurus rocket comes exactly two years following it's last flight which ended in failure when the payload fairing did not separate away from the craft minutes into the flight.

Five minutes into the ascent, reports began to filter in that the nose cone of the rocket had not separated on time.

"The flight was going well until the time of fairing separation", NASA launch commentator George Diller announced at the time. "We had data coming into the Mission Directors Center... that we did not have a successful fairing separation from the Taurus, and there was insufficient velocity with the fairing still on for the vehicle to achieve orbit."

The payload fairing is a white cone the top of the rocket which covered the 1,157 pound satellite, and protects it from the stresses of launch through the dense atmosphere.

"The fairing has considerable weight relative to the portion of the vehicle that's flying", John Brunschwyler of Orbital Sciences Corporation said after the 2009 Taurus loss. "So when it separates off, you get a jump in acceleration. We did not have that jump in acceleration.

The the four foot, 4 inch wide by seven foot long fairing should have split in two a fallen away. The fairing is nearly the same
as those used on Orbital's air-launched Pegasus rockets from near Vandenberg.

The ninety-one foot tall rocket consists of four solid fueled stages.

The Thiokol-built first stage burns for the first 83 seconds of flight, followed by the second stage ignition and burn for the next 73 seconds of flight. The third and fourth stages burn at just over a minute each.

Glory was scheduled to separate later from Taurus' upper stage at 5:22 a.m. as it soared in a polar orbit.

Instead today, "All indications are that the satellite and rocket is in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere", a dejected Taurus launch director Omar Baez of the Kennedy Space Center said this morning. "It's a very difficult situation we're in her," Baez stated a few minutes earlier.
In addition to Glory, three small cube science satellites were launched.

NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) is a program in which colleges and universities can fly their own experiment into low earth orbit using a CubeSat.

NASA told the crews of the International Space Station and shuttle Discovery as she laid docked 222 miles above earth.

"Sorry to hear that... that's unfortunate", commander Scott Kelly radioed back to Houston's Mission Control upon hearing the news.

"Let me just say that there's a great deal of emotional investment on the part of all the players on any spaceflight, but that's probably doubly so on a return-to-flight effort like this one," Ron Grabe, the general manager of Orbital's Launch Systems Group stated this morning.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Discovery and station crews spend quieter day on orbit

Cady Coleman with the carbon dioxide removal system (NASA)

As the space shuttle Discovery remains docked today with the International Space Station, twelve humans continue to live and work 222 miles high above the earth.

On the heels of three days devoted to two spacewalks and the installation of a new 21-foot long pressurized storage module, the crews spent Thursday at a quieter pace as they increased the station's altitude and answered questions from news media.

Station commander Scott Kelly and flight engineer Cady Coleman spent their morning swapping out the front bed of the carbon dioxide removal facility in the Tranquility node.

There are two beds which work in tandem with one another in a black box machine. While one is cleaning the CO2 from the crews atmosphere, the other bed is recharging. There are several other CDRF's throughout the space station.

During the work, shuttle Discovery began firing her thrusters at 9:03 a.m. EST, to reboost the space station into an orbit nearly one mile higher.

Crew members began discussing by radio across the space station if they felt Discovery's thrusters firing and moving the complex, and one said "actually I can feel it".

The reboost of the station is designed to support a March 16 undocking by a Russian Soyuz TMA-01M, which Kelly and Russian flight engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka docked to the complex on October 9.

Discovery's crew this afternoon received word that their flight would be extended yet another day. Discovery is now set to depart the space station on Monday at 7:03 a.m. and return home to the Kennedy Space Center for a landing on Wednesday at about noon EST.

NASA's mission control stated the additional day will give the space station crew more helpers "to unpack and outfit the Permanent Multipurpose Module and fill the (Japanese) H-II Transfer Vehicle with trash before its planned late-March undocking".

The two crews also received a phone call from the White House and President Obama prior to ending their day.

The president enjoyed a light hearted conversation with Discovery commander Steve Lindsey his seventh crew member "Robonaut 2".

Robonaut 2 is a gold humanized robot with hands much like a human including how it can grasp items. It will be placed outside the space station in a few months to perform chores which could be hazardous to a spacewalking astronaut.

VIDEO: Discovery launch views from booster camereas

Space shuttle Discovery launches on STS-133, her final launch, on February 24. Watch this thirty-minute video recorded from cameras on the twin boosters and external tank. (NASA)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Discovery astronauts perform second spacewalk

Astronaut Bowen performs an orbital walk in space today. (NASA)

Space shuttle Discovery astronauts Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew left the International Space Station today to complete several chores on this the second planned spacewalk of the shuttle's final mission.

Bowen and Drew switched their spacesuits to internal power at 10:42 a.m. EST, today and minutes later left the Quest airlock and the start of six and one-half hour orbital walk in space.

Today's spacewalk marked Bowen's seventh excursion outside the space station and Drew's second.

The spacewalkers first set out in two different directions. Bowen to the station's 58-foot robotic arm to install a work platform on the end effector; and Drew headed over to the External Stowage Platform No. 2 to complete work from Monday's 'walk' to vent nearly ten pounds of coolant from the ammonia pump.

In the Cupola node, the robotics work station.

Bowen then unbolted the Lightweight Adaptor Plate Assembly (LWAPA) experiment carrier platform, removing it from the European Columbus module while riding the station's arm. The arm then carried Bowen as he carried the platform over to Discovery's payload bay so it can be installed in the aft section for the return trip home.

Eighty minutes into the spacewalk, Bowen installed a new "camera light pan and tilt assembly" on Canada's Dextre robot, and then removed a thermal blanket from Dextre, NASA's mission control at the Johnson Space Center stated.

Bowen placed a new lens cover on a camera on the robotic arm of the space station at the elbow joint, which will protect the lens from erosion that might be caused by visiting spacecraft thrusters.

Drew also placed a light on the Crew Equipment Translation Aid cart to allow for future spacewalkers to work in that dark area, and placed insulation around a "valve module fluid line on a left hand truss segment radiator beam", mission control added.

As the final hour of the orbital walk in space began, the light assembly on Drew's helmet came undone.

Hanging by it's electrical cords, Bowen transitioned over to Drew and worked to reattach the dangling light back to his helmet. Bowen had no luck and Drew headed to the airlock.

The spacewalk ended at 4:56 p.m., completing the second of two spacewalks on Discovery's mission and the fourth of this year aboard the space station.

The spacewalk was delayed earlier when leak checks of Bowen's suit discovered a small leak.

Discovery crew member Mike Barratt helped dressed the spacewalking astronauts in their space suits discovered a worn blue O-ring seal (right) on Bowen's Lithium Hydroxide canister at 8:37 a.m. He radioed mission control in Houston the likely source of the leak.

The fourteen-inch long narrow black box is stored in the life support region on the back pack of the spacesuit. It is designed to remove carbon dioxide from the astronauts oxygen.

After the crew's in the Quest airlock and nearby on station could not find a replacement blue o-ring, mission control approved the use of an orange o-ring which is shaped the same in size.

A leak check ten minutes later found no leaks and the crew pressed on running fifteen minutes late.

Today's spacewalk also marked the 155th spacewalk in support of the construction and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory complex. A total 973 hours and 53 minutes of combined spacewalking time have been accumulated since 1998.

Thursday will be less busy for the duel crew of twelve in space.

Unstowing items from Discovery's middeck for placement on the space station, and several interviews by news media and a call from President Obama at 5:03 p.m. are planned.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Leonardo storage module docked to space station

A new storage module is docked to space station today. (NASA)

An Italian-built pressurized storage module was plucked from the space shuttle Discovery's bay and firmly docked to the International Space Station this morning to become a permanent storage facility on the orbiting complex.

The new pressurized module addition means extra storage for the crew of six living and working aboard the orbiting lab. The storage module is also the final American addition to the space station ending 13 years of space shuttle delivered construction.

The Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module was known as Leonardo on it's first seven visits to the space station beginning in 2001 and is owned by NASA. This will mark Leonardo's eighth and final trip to the space station as it will now stay as a permanent storage facility.

The space station's 58-foot robotic arm grappled the storage module at 8:26 a.m. EST, today and twenty minutes later slowly began to lift it from the aft section of Discovery's payload bay.

Working inside the 360-degree viewing room known as the Cupola, Discovery astronauts Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott used the robotics work station to guide the module attached to the arm from the shuttle and across to the Unity module for docking.

In the bask of sunlight, the module just centimeters from the common berthing mechanism, Stott radioed down to mission control, "We see four good rtl's". Station crew member Cady Coleman then replaced Stott on the arm, and she and Barratt were then go for docking the module to the common berthing mechanism which attaches Leonardo to station.

The 28,353-pound module was then docked to the earth facing port of the Unity module at 10:05 a.m., located adjacent to the Cupola node, as the station-shuttle complex flew 222 miles high over Western Sahara, Africa (above).

Minutes later, as the bolts were driven in to firmly secure the module, the space station flew over central Italy, and above where the module was constructed in the mid-1990's.

Once fully docked, Coleman then swung the station's arm from the module beginning at 10:30 a.m. and over to a holding position.

Measuring 21 feet by 15 feet in diameter, the PMPM is carrying 14 different racks inside filled with science, equipment and supplies.

Leonardo last flew to station in April 2010, following that flight the module was refurbished to support a longer duration is space.

New reinforced protective blankets were added on the outside of most of the module to help block micrometeorite hits as the station speeds through earth orbit at 17,300 m.p.h.

"Thank-you for the new storage module, Houston", station commander Scott Kelly radioed mission control in a dry-tone voice. "It's much needed."

Later today, crew members will open the hatches between station and the module as it begins active duty during the next decade in space.

Also, of interest Discovery was given a go last evening for an extra day in space docked to the station.

However, Russia this morning stood firm and turned down NASA's request to have a Soyuz TMA-M undock and fly out to take a last portrait of Discovery docked with her international partners.
copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.