Sunday, November 7, 2010

Discovery no more

I've written about the end of the space shuttle program before (and talked about the last flight of the shuttle Atlantis here) and last Monday the space shuttle Discovery was supposed to launch for its final flight.

The mission
The main objective of flight STS-133 is to transport the Permanent Multipurpose Module to the ISS, which is going to be a permanent (storage) module attached to the ISS.
It was previously called Leonardo when it was a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (used to transport supplies and materiel to and from the ISS).

Besides the external module attachment, Discovery is also going to transport a humanoid space robot to the ISS called Robonaut2. Yes, you read that right, a humanoid robot. It's the second generation of the Robonaut project designing robotic astronaut helpers.
It's non-mobile in its current configuration and is designed to be attached to fixed points of the ISS, so it can assist in whatever the astronauts are doing there.
Later models might be more mobile and eventually be able to perform Extra-Vehicular Activities (working on the outside of a shuttle/the ISS/another object in space).

But unfortunately the launch was postponed a couple of times, first because of a vapor leak in the right Orbital Maneuvering System then because of bad weather.
And finally the launch was suspended until November 30th at the earliest because of a hydrogen leak in the Ground umbilical carrier plate.

But fear not, Discovery will fly again.
Whenever there has been a major disaster (space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003) the 'return to flight'-missions were all flown by Discovery.
It was also the Discovery that launched the Hubble Space Telescope.