Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Space Shuttle: Last Discovery Launch Thursday, So Far

"Electrical Glitch Delays Space Shuttle Discovery's Launch to Thursday"
Denise Chow, Space.com (November 2, 2010)

"The space shuttle Discovery's final launch has been delayed at least 24 hours due to issues with one of the orbiter's backup engine controllers.

"Mission managers decided that extra time is needed to address the glitch, preventing an on-time launch tomorrow afternoon (Nov. 3).The next attempt to launch the space shuttle will come no earlier than Thursday (Nov. 4) at 3:29 p.m. (1929 GMT).

"During checkouts of the orbiter today, the backup controller for Discovery's Main Engine No. 3 did not turn on as expected, NASA officials said in a statement. Voltage irregularities were observed, and engineering teams subsequently began investigating the problem.

"Earlier today, shuttle engineers had also noticed a separate problem with the same backup computer system, but those issues were said to have been fixed. [GRAPHIC: NASA's Space Shuttle – From Top to Bottom]..."

The Lemming hasn't been keeping track of how many times this last Discovery mission has been rescheduled. The last I posted about was the topic of an October 31 Space.com article. ("Space Shuttle Discovery: Last Launch Rescheduled" (October 31, 2010) That time the launch was set back to Wednesday.

Does this prove that space travel is too unsafe, or too something else, to be practical?

The Lemming doesn't think so. Takeoffs and landings with any sort of flying vehicle are notoriously risky. Remember Tenerife, 1977? Or US Airways Flight 1549, 2009? (January 17, 2009, January 31, 2009)

The folks running the Space Shuttle program know this - and there's every reason to believe they don't want a repeat of the Challenger disaster.

Besides, the Space Shuttle is a huge piece of three-decade-old (for the most part) technology. It's not terribly surprising that parts of the system need tweaking before they're ready to go.

Will getting into orbit always be this complicated? An epic voyage fraught with peril? The Lemming's guess is 'no.' Any more than crossing the Atlantic today means spending weeks in an open-top curragh. We've even got technology in the research and development stage that may make passenger and freight service to low Earth orbit about as routine as trans-Pacific flights are now. ("Hypersonic Vehicles: Waveriders to Space" (November 2, 2009))

Here's that Space.com 'infographic:'

A graphical representation of NASA's space shuttle – including orbiter structure, launch preparation and reentry, and the space shuttle fleet – at SPACE.com
Source Space.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

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