Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Discovery Launch: Hydrogen Leak, Cracks, and Canvas Sails

"Latest Launch Delay May Push Shuttle Discovery's Final Flight Into Christmas "
Denise Chow, (November 24, 2010)

"NASA's latest launch delay for the space shuttle Discovery could push the spacecraft's final mission into the Christmas holiday, or even postpone it completely until February, agency officials said Wednesday.

"Top shuttle program managers met today (Nov. 24) to review recent repairs to Discovery's massive external fuel tank. Based on the discussion, NASA officials decided to forgo any launch attempts until at least Dec. 17, if not into the next launch window in February.

" 'What we've told the agency leadership is that clearly we're not ready for the Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 window that's coming up next week,' John Shannon, NASA's shuttle program manager, said in a news conference this afternoon. 'We'll leave the option open for a launch window for Dec. 17, but a lot of data has to come together to support that.'..."

If Discovery doesn't launch in December, it looks like the launch date will be pushed back to February, 2010.

All of which doesn't leave the folks on the International Space Station (ISS) stranded. They've been getting cargo from robotic freighters; and the last the Lemming heard, Russia had spacecraft that could ferry people to and from the space station.

The hydrogen leak's been patched, and cracked metal ribs in Discovery's external tank are now reinforced. Part of what's keeping Discovery on the ground, is that program managers don't think they've got a clear enough idea of why the ribs cracked in the first place.

The Lemming thinks that waiting is prudent in this case. It certainly makes more sense than the Qantas 'there was no explosion' approach to vehicle maintenance. (November 4, 2010)

That crack in the exterior tank's insulation? Not related to the cracked ribs, and that's patched, too.

The Lemming hopes to watch Discovery's last mission on television. It'll be a time for a little nostalgia. It's the end of the first line of surface-to-orbit freighters.

There's also a great deal of 'firsts' happening. Bigelow Aerospace is well on its way to having rental property in Earth orbit. (October 20, 2010) We've been assured that Russia will have the "first" commercial space station - probably true, depending on how "first" and "space station" are defined. (September 29, 2010) There's even not-entirely-crazy talk about commercial flights to Mars in maybe 15 years. (September 1, 2010)

Sure, the Lemming will miss the Space Shuttles. A little like someone might miss the days when wooden hulls and canvas sails carried people between continents. But it's exciting, living in an era where people are traveling to orbit and back - and it doesn't necessarily make the headlines any more.

The folks working at getting Discovery launch-ready? They're getting Thursday and Friday off. It's Thanksgiving weekend, you know.

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