For NASA, this was a week of launches and lack of launches. The space shuttle Discovery successfully blasted off yesterday on its final mission, but NASA’s climate-watching Glory satellite, which was scheduled to launch on Wednesday, is still stuck on the ground.
With an estimated 40,000 viewers at the Kennedy Space Center, Discovery launched at 4:53:24 p.m. ET on Thursday. Its crew of six is bound for the International Space Station, after four months of delay due to fuel tank repairs.
“Discovery now making one last reach for the stars,” the Mission Control commentator said once the shuttle cleared the launch tower. [CBS News]
Also on board is the first ever space-bound humanoid robot: Robonaut 2, or R2. This robot resembles a human from the waist up, and may eventually take on tedious chores and complete station repairs that are too dangerous for humans. At it entered space the robot tweeted (via its earthly handlers): “I’m in space! HELLO UNIVERSE!!!”
Astronauts flown up aboard the space shuttle Discovery are working hard to get the International Space Station ready for more residents: In May, the station’s live-aboard crew will expand from three to six members. But while some elements of the station upgrade have gone flawlessly, including the installation of the station’s final array of solar panels, astronauts encountered problems with other crucial procedures–like fixing the station’s urine recycling system.
The astronauts were given an extra task when NASA issued an alert about a piece of space junk that was expected to whiz past the space station at dangerously close range. With his ship still docked at the International Space Station, shuttle commander Lee Archambault fired up Discovery’s steering jets Sunday to move the linked craft into a new position that will reduce their chances of colliding with a piece of space junk [Los Angeles Times]. The four-inch chunk of debris, part of a spent Chinese satellite, is the latest reminder that orbital odds and ends pose a threat to the Space Station. Less than two weeks ago, crew members had to scramble into an escape pod as a precaution when another piece of debris came too close for comfort.
NASA’s space shuttles are known for being shipshape — efficiency and neatness are the bywords, and everything is kept neatly stowed. So when astronauts headed home on the Discovery noticed a stray object outside the shuttle floating away into space this morning, they took note. When they next noted a strange new “little bump” on the side of the vessel’s rudder, their earthbound colleagues got a bit nervous.
As the shuttle continues on its course back towards Earth after a successful mission to the International Space Station, both astronauts and NASA’s ground staff have been scrambling to figure out what it all means, and whether these developments could pose any threat to the shuttle on its reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere. After a morning of exhaustive analysis, NASA says it’s got a preliminary answer to these pressing questions: Discovery probably lost a part, but it probably doesn’t matter.
The toilet on the International Space Station was finally fixed yesterday, provoking a sigh of relief from astronauts and a wave of giggles from the earthlings here below.
The zero-gravity toilet broke two weeks ago, and couldn’t be fixed until the space shuttle Discovery arrived at the station with a load of spare parts.
Discovery had a trip to the station scheduled anyway, to deliver a $1 billion science lab that’s now the largest component of the station. But while mission command may have hoped to use the shuttle’s trip to educate the public on zero-gravity science experiments, the emergency toilet repair took the spotlight instead.
The space shuttle Discovery docked at the International Space Station this afternoon, two days after its launch through cloudless Florida skies on Saturday. But before the shuttle cozied up to the station and threw open the doors, the pilot guided the shuttle in an elegant backflip, allowing the station’s astronauts to photograph the Discovery‘s belly to check for damage.
This maneuver has become standard over the past five years. However, NASA engineers are particularly eager to get these photos back, because several pieces of foam insulation fell from the shuttle during its launch.
If the shuttle Discovery blasts off as planned this Saturday, it will deliver a $1 billion science lab to the International Space Station, where astronauts will be able to use furnaces to grow crystals and bio-chambers to grow cells.
But the space lab isn’t the shuttle‘s only precious cargo. It will also carry spare parts to allow astronauts to fix their malfunctioning space toilet.
News of the broken space toilet has captivated the earth-bound masses, as people imagine, with horror, being confronted with a balky toilet in a zero gravity environment. NASA has admitted that the toilet broke last Wednesday, when the fan-and-vacuum system that sucks away liquid waste stopped working.