Monday, August 31, 2009

Discovery Arrives

Caption: Billows of smoke and steam rise above Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida alongside space shuttle Discovery as it races toward space on the STS-128 mission.

The STS-128 mission is the 30th International Space Station assembly flight and the 128th space shuttle flight. The 13-day mission will deliver more than 7 tons of supplies, science racks and equipment, as well as additional environmental hardware to sustain six crew members on the International Space Station. The equipment includes a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment and the COLBERT treadmill.

Image Credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell

The space shuttle Discovery arrived at the International Space Station this morning. As reports, it wasn't without difficulty:

Sturckow flew Discovery without the aid of six small thrusters, which are usually extensively used during docking, because one had a leak. Instead, he used Discovery's larger, more powerful thrusters, which use more propellant and can make for a louder ride and more challenging docking.

"He just flew it like a champ today," shuttle flight director Tony Ceccacci told reporters after docking.

A rendezvous first

Sturckow has trained to use the larger thrusters during docking, but NASA never had to try it until today, Cain said. The smaller thrusters will not be used for the duration of Discovery's 13-day mission, he added. Sturckow also had to compensate for a slight misalignment of the space station, which was 1 degree out of position during tonight's docking, NASA officials said.

Shuttle Discovery Arrives at Space Station

Rather than being some sort of improvisation, this possibility was foreseen and a plan devised for it. One of the most amazing things to me about these flights is that someone seems to have foreseen most of the possible failures in the shuttles' systems and come up with a workaround.

Discovery's mission this time is mostly to supply the ISS with new experiments and a new crew member. As Reuters reports, there's a hodgepodge of stuff to deliver and take back to Earth:

The first spacewalk, scheduled for Tuesday, will be to replace a tank of ammonia coolant and retrieve two European science experiments that will be coming back to Earth for analysis.

Nicole Stott, a rookie astronaut who will be transferring to the station crew, will perform the spacewalk together with astronaut Danny Olivas.

Stott is the last station crewmember to launch aboard the shuttle. NASA is turning over station crew transport to Russia while it studies proposals from aspiring U.S. commercial carriers.

Discovery's cargo includes new laboratory gear for science experiments and a second freezer to store samples until they can be transported back to Earth.

Also aboard is a $5 million treadmill named after Comedy Central television host Stephen Colbert, who won naming rights to the station's final module after fans swarmed a NASA publicity campaign.

Space Shuttle Reaches Space Station For 9-Day Stay noted one other interesting bit of information from the NASA handouts:

Discovery docked at the space station on the 25th anniversary of its maiden launch on Aug. 30, 1984. That mission, STS-41-D, deployed three satellites and tested solar array technology for a future space station.

Shuttle Discovery Arrives at Space Station

Yet another indication, I think, that we Americans aren't thinking about the future as other countries are is that it's now been a generation, more than 25 years, since the shuttle was designed. In that time, no replacement has been developed. NASA is now scrambling to develop a more conventional set of crew modules and launch vehicles. The shape of the replacement crew module should look familiar:

Caption: The Orion crew module that will be used for the Orion Launch Abort System Pad Abort-1 flight test is photographed prior to loading onto a Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center Aug. 18, 2009 for airlift to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The first of five planned launch abort flight tests in NASA's Constellation program, Pad Abort 1 is scheduled for early 2010 from the new launch pad at White Sands.

Image Credit: NASA

since it took us to the Moon forty years ago. In the meantime, we've gone from somewhat reusable space planes back to "spam in a can".

There have been limited efforts to design a follow-on space plane, but thanks to disinterest in Congress and the White House, there has been no funding for anything beyond studies.

As with the earlier Hubble repair mission, what we are watching is the end of an era.


NP said...

We saw the launch from our house--a very cool sight, especially on such a clear night (at least where we were)!

Cujo359 said...

It looked like quite a sight in this picture.

alotstuff said...

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