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Space Shuttle Discovery
The six-member crew will deliver materials to the International Space Station aboard the Discovery for the last time today at 4:50 p.m. EST

After nearly 30 years of space travel, NASA's space shuttle Discovery will make its final flight today from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  

Discovery was first launched in 1984, and is one of NASA’s three operational orbiters in the Space Shuttle fleet. It has spent 352 days in orbit and circled the Earth 5,628 times. It has also carried 246 crewmembers, which is more than any other space vehicle has before. After years of International Space Station assembly missions and research missions, Discovery is now the oldest orbiter in service, and will be retiring after today's launch.  

Today's launch, which will be Discovery's 39th journey, was originally set for November 5 of last year, but the launch was delayed due to vital repairs to the external tank's support beams. NASA released the new launch date, February 24, just a few weeks ago.  

"Discovery has been a really remarkable vehicle for us and the program," said Jeff Spaulding, NASA test director. "She still has a few more miles to go before she sleeps, though."

Discovery's final flight will carry a six-member crew for an 11-day mission. The mission objective is to deliver a science rig, a storage module, and spare parts to the international Space Station. In addition, Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot assistant, will be traveling on the Discovery to embark on a permanent stay at the International Space Station.  

The six crew members aboard the Discovery's final flight will be commander and veteran NASA astronaut Steven Lindsey, NASA pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Steven Bowen and Nicole Stott. Originally, astronaut Tim Kopra was supposed to be apart of the six-member crew, but endured a bicycle accident last month that has prevented him from joining the others. Bowen was a last-minute substitute for Kopra. 

At 7:25 a.m. EST (1225 GMT), NASA technicians began filling the Discovery's 15-story, 550,000 gallon tank, which is a three-hour process that consists of pumping liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the tank. The launch is set to take place at 4:50 p.m. EST (2150 GMT). 

"We are really looking forward to a very action-packed, successful mission," said Mike Moses, NASA's shuttle integration manager.

In addition to the Discovery's final launch, space shuttle Endeavour, which is also one of the three operational orbiters at NASA, is set to embark on its final launch as well on April 19. 



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RE: The end of an Era
By FITCamaro on 2/24/2011 12:22:21 PM , Rating: 5
Whatever it is, not soon enough.

A tear will be shed from my eye tonight.


RE: The end of an Era
By MrBlastman on 2/24/2011 1:04:08 PM , Rating: 5
For sure.

Unfortunately, there are a number of Zealots out there who if they could have their way, would kill off the space program completely. I suppose, they think we can live together peacefully in a Utopia on Earth for all eternity.

They can keep on dreaming as far as I'm concerned. Man is destined to kill themselves off. I'd like to be one of those who finds a way off this rock and into space somewhere so when it finally happens, I can sit back and watch from a very safe distance.


RE: The end of an Era
By maven81 on 2/24/2011 1:38:41 PM , Rating: 2
Even as a massive NASA supporter I have to say that as far as making it possible for the average joe to get off this rock, they are not doing well. The shuttle fleet is the most expensive way for humans to reach LEO. With prices like those you and I would never wind up going. And that's if they even sold tickets. They still don't, and for that you have to go to the Russians. Space X is poised to beat them handily when it comes to making cheap, routine flights possible. Let's hope they realize this and focus on pushing the envelope, and eventually getting us out beyond the moon.


RE: The end of an Era
By Solandri on 2/24/2011 2:32:21 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah, for a long time NASA has been divided into the "man in space" group and the "robots for exploration" group. It used to be the manned space program got the bulk of NASA funding. I always thought that was a travesty, and that so much money was spent putting people into orbit to do relatively trivial things when the same amount of money could pay for so much more robotic exploration. For comparison, the entire MER program (the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars) cost about the same as a single Shuttle mission.

So I've been hoping the shuttles would be retired sooner rather than later. But even I'm crestfallen that we're replacing them with... nothing. I was hoping the manned space program would be scaled back in favor of robots. Not eliminated entirely.


RE: The end of an Era
By The Raven on 2/24/2011 2:00:30 PM , Rating: 2
I'm no such anti-NASA zealot, but what would such a pro-NASA zealot as yourself prefer to that doomsday scenario that you posit? That we also destroy another planet? Or just kill ourselves off on some other planet? What is the intergalactic equivalent of "white flight" ;-)

But seriously, why can't everybody just be ok with us putting the feelers out there as we were instead of the going balls to the wall "let's get off this cesspool" mentality that people are hung up on.

Let's just be pragmatic about this is all I'm saying. And to do so, we need both sides of the argument.


RE: The end of an Era
By quiksilvr on 2/24/2011 2:15:40 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Human quality of life has been drastically improving since the stone ages. Not only have mortality rates decreased and our lifespan has increased, our population keeps going up as well (though it is set to stabilize within the next few decades).

I'm all for space exploration, but not the ludicrous spending on it. Focus on projects that matter (advanced satellites, cleaning up space debris to increase global communication with one another, etc.) instead of burdening our budget with the ISS. It's called INTERNATIONAL. The US took way too much responsibility over it. Only now are we backing out of it, but it's a decade too late IMO.


RE: The end of an Era
By MrBlastman on 2/24/2011 2:16:34 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
But seriously, why can't everybody just be ok with us putting the feelers out there as we were instead of the going balls to the wall "let's get off this cesspool" mentality that people are hung up on.


When has man shown you that there is hope for peace in the last couple of thousand years? As far as I can tell, never. Man is wired to kill and more importantly, will kill his own just to be on the top. I'm not saying this is a problem, this is just how we are.

So, you say we will kill ourselves off another planet--probably... but, if we keep expanding we at least increase the odds of our survival by putting us in many places at one time. If we stay cooped up on one planet, it's just as if we're waiting for the clock to sound that our time is up. I don't in any way pretend that galactic expansion will be peaceful at all--the reality is, it won't, but, the prospect for survival is better doing so than not.


RE: The end of an Era
By The Raven on 2/24/2011 3:45:01 PM , Rating: 2
Well I do agree that if your aim is to ensure the survival of the human race that is the way to go. But if your view of the human race is such a pessimistic one then what is the point of ensuring the survival of such a self-destructive species?

But you guys are the ones who feel that way. Not me. Everytime I see good on this planet I know that things will get better and better. Sure there are wars raging somewhere on the planet pretty much all the time, but they are of a smaller magnitude as the years pass by. So what if we take 2 steps back here and again? We are consistantly taking 3 steps forward as a species.
quote:
Man is wired to kill and more importantly, will kill his own just to be on the top. I'm not saying this is a problem, this is just how we are.

Sheesh! How many murderers do you hang out with? My cousin 'accidentally' killed a guy in a drug deal gone wrong and that is the only person I know who has killed a man. And I have many active duty relatives (and a lot of cousins ;-)!


RE: The end of an Era
By MrBlastman on 2/24/2011 4:59:29 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
but they are of a smaller magnitude as the years pass by.


Are you kidding? Please say you are. What do you call World War 1 and 2? What about the millions of people that died? They weren't smaller, at all. Also, what about the collateral casualties not directly related to the wars (civilians and the holocaust).

You can not feasibly look at the total death count from wars and compare them over a small period of time as say that of a few decades or a century. You have to compare numbers over milennia for an accurate perspective. With greater technology comes greater ways for man to kill each other. We might have nuclear weapons right now, but I am absolutely certain someone will figure out, somehow, to kill even MORE people with a more devastating weapon than those that we have currently. I'd bet all my money on it, every single dime, if I knew I'd be around long enough to collect on the bet.

quote:
Sheesh! How many murderers do you hang out with?


We are the top of the food chain. If you look around the wilds, you'll see species after species with various means on them (claws, teeth, tails, spikes, poisons) that enable them to kill things. Man is the ONLY carnivorous animal that by default, is weaker physically than the majority of other mammals out there.

The big difference between man and other animals in the food chain is our brain. Our brains have enabled us to develop tools which we can use to kill other animals, putting us at the top of the food chain. Man did not get to the top of the food chain by being peaceful with the rest of the animal kingdom. We got here through force and flexing our mental muscle.

Sure, not all man wants to kill their best friend or neighbor, but, driven to the brink, all man will do what they have to do to survive. Those who don't will perish.


RE: The end of an Era
By The Raven on 2/28/2011 3:08:04 PM , Rating: 2
How many dictators, monarchies, or emperors were around during WWI/II? If you adhere to American philosophy, you believe that freedom begets peace. More people are free today than ever. Therefore we should be less worried about crazy people getting hold of the reigns of gigantic militaries. Are there still such crazies out there? Yes (Kim Jong Il, Hu Jintao, GWB, BHO...;-). But the fact is that there are less, and less chance of another WW.

You didn't address the question:
quote:
Well I do agree that if your aim is to ensure the survival of the human race that is the way to go. But if your view of the human race is such a pessimistic one then what is the point of ensuring the survival of such a self-destructive species?

You just went off on this...
quote:
Sure, not all man wants to kill their best friend or neighbor, but, driven to the brink, all man will do what they have to do to survive. Those who don't will perish.
Yeah people don't want to kill their neighbors, because they usually help each other to survive. That is why most people in this world don't have to indiscriminately kill other humans. Plus, how will you procreate and continue to "evolve" if you kill everyone around you?

Anyway, it just sounds like you are looking for a ticket off of this hell hole subsidized by "your neighbors" so you can be the only one there out on Planet X with your mob of dehydrated Martians. Am I right?


RE: The end of an Era
By AssBall on 2/24/2011 1:21:09 PM , Rating: 2
It is cool that we still have the most awesome piece of engineering ever created by man 25 years later, and sad that we are not following up with it.

Those of us who still dare to dream will sorely miss her. Thanks for all the hard work, Discovery.


RE: The end of an Era
By maven81 on 2/24/2011 1:43:41 PM , Rating: 2
The soviet buran was arguably more advanced given it's ability to do completely automated flights (a capability that I believe NASA contemplated but never implemented). But that's kinda moot since it proved to be so expensive they could only afford 1 flight.


RE: The end of an Era
By Iaiken on 2/24/2011 1:38:02 PM , Rating: 2
You can watch it live on the NASA website:

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html


RE: The end of an Era
By superPC on 2/24/2011 7:59:37 PM , Rating: 2
i've shed plenty of tears all through the space program history. time to go back and re-watch those when we left earth documentary again and hoping that we will do a lot better in the future.


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