Sunday, October 31, 2010

Space Shuttle Discovery: Last Launch Rescheduled

"Shuttle Discovery's Gas Leaks Repaired In Time for Wednesday Launch"
Denise Chow, (October 31, 2010)

"NASA is counting down toward the final flight of space shuttle Discovery after engineers successfully repaired two minor gas leaks on the spacecraft in time for one last launch on Wednesday (Nov. 3).

"Discovery's final launch has been delayed two days due to leaky helium and nitrogen seals found in the shuttle's right orbital maneuvering system pod last week.

"Technicians raced to troubleshoot the problem and re-pressurize the orbiter's rocket engine in time for a targeted launch at 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT) on Wednesday. The official countdown toward liftoff began today (Oct. 31) at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT)...."

The Lemming may indulge in a little nostalgia around Wednesday. I remember watching coverage of the first Space Shuttle test flight, and have followed the program over the decades - including the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Those are reminders of how risky getting to orbit and back can be. Looking at it another way, the 131 Space Shuttle missions that went pretty much as planned shows how far this sort of transportation technology has come since the Vanguard days.

The end of the Space Shuttle program is hardly the end of people traveling to space. It's more the end of a very early stage in our travels beyond Earth.

"...NASA will retire the three remaining shuttles in its fleet – Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – next year to make way for a new plan aimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid and Mars. Discovery is the oldest of NASA's space shuttles...."

In the short run, it looks like vehicles that will replace the Space Shuttle fleet will look more like the old Soyuz/Apollo-era capsules. A few years further out, my guess is that transoceanic air travel will merge with service to low Earth orbit. Ten years or so from now, folks may be flying something like the X-51 or Skylon hypersonic vehicles.

One thing this era is not, is boring.

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