By Howard Lestrud, ECM Online Managing Editor
My interest in space exploration goes back many years, in fact all the way back to the early 1960s when the United States was struggling to keep up and eventually pass the Soviet Union in getting into space. It’s in the history books that Russia got there first with Sputnik and the first astronaut in space, Yuri Gagarin. Now, I am awaiting the final launch of the Discovery space shuttle, tentatively planned for Dec. 17, 2010.
I remember following the trials and tribulations of the Vanguard and Jupiter rockets. The image is still clear in my mind of the Vanguard rocket getting only a few feet into the air and then exploding on the launching pad.
I’m still fascinated by space exploration and there’s no better way to keep track of future missions than to log in to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Web site. Go to http#mce_temp_url#.
Some of my high school social studies projects centered around space exploration. I also remember watching coverage of space launches on television, the journeys of Alan Shepard, Virgil (Gus) Grissom and John Glenn.
My fascination with space crafts in general was really fostered when Judy, Troy, Tammi and I visited Florida in 1986 and made a trip to the Kennedy Space Center two weeks after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven astronauts aboard. Even though the accident had recently happened, officials of NASA forged ahead with more shuttle missions planned for the future.
Our family took two separate bus tour trips of the space center, seeing the current NASA buildings and also touring some of the areas including the block house that contained the first computers helping place our first astronauts into space.
Looking at the early computers, one wonders how we got Shepard, Grissom and Glenn into space. I am still overwhelmed by the fact that the first men landed on the moon over 40 years ago.
Our country’s progression in space exploration, pardon the pun, rocketed quickly with the many space shuttle missions. Discovery is the third space shuttle orbiter to join the fleet and it has made over 30 flights.
Let’s find out more about Discovery’s past and upcoming final flight by going to http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/shuttleoperations/orbiters/discovery-info.html
Arriving for the first time at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in November 1983 and after checkout and processing, Discovery was launched on Aug. 30, 1984, for its first mission, 41-D, to deploy three communications satellites.
Since that inaugural flight, Discovery has completed more than 30 successful missions, surpassing the number of flights made by any other orbiter in NASA’s fleet. Just like all of the orbiters, it has undergone some major modifications over the years. The most recent began in 2002 and was the first carried out at Kennedy. It provided 99 upgrades and 88 special tests, including new changes to make it safer for flight.
Discovery has the distinction of being chosen as the Return to Flight orbiter twice. The first was for STS-26 in 1988, and the second when it carried the STS-114 crew on NASA’s Return to Flight mission to the International Space Station in July 2005.
The choice of the name “Discovery” carried on a tradition drawn from some historic, Earth-bound exploring ships of the past. One of these sailing forerunners was the vessel used in the early 1600s by Henry Hudson to explore Hudson Bay and search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Another such ship was used by British explorer James Cook in the 1770s during his voyages in the South Pacific, leading to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. In addition, two British Royal Geographical Society ships have carried the name “Discovery” as they sailed on expeditions to the North Pole and the Antarctic.
Details of each Discovery mission can be found at a Wikipedia site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Discovery
On its final flight Discovery will deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module, the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide critical spare components to the International Space Station. This will be the 35th shuttle mission to the station.This mission is the final one for Discovery. The mission is no longer said to be the last scheduled flight of the Space Shuttle Program.
Discovery will be decommissioned in 2011. It will be the third from last space shuttle to fly when it is launched on the STS-133 mission.
Find out who is riding on STS-133 by going to these NASA pages at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts133/index.html. The STS-133 crew members are Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott.
Discovery has been the first shuttle to venture into new territory several times, and it’s about to do so again: Following the STS-133 mission, Discovery will be the first of the shuttle fleet to retire.
“We’re wrapping up the Space Shuttle Program,” said STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey. “Besides the excitement of completing the International Space Station and all the things we do, I hope people get a sense of the history of what the shuttle is and what we’ve done and what’s ending. Because they’ll probably never see anything like it flying again.”
After STS-133, space shuttle Endeavour has one more flight on the manifest. Atlantis has the possibility of another flight, and it has to be ready for one regardless, as it would be the rescue vehicle if Endeavour were to need it. So Discovery will be the first vehicle to roll to what will definitely be a final wheel stop.
By the end of STS-133, 180 people will also have flown aboard Discovery, including the first female shuttle pilot and the first female shuttle commander (who happen to be the same person – Eileen Collins), the first African American spacewalker (Bernard Harris) and the first sitting member of congress to fly in space (Jake Garn).
I promise you that if you go to http://www.nasa.gov, it will take you some time to leave the site. Travel to Mars via the NASA site and see Rover images that pay honor to the Apollo 12 spacecraft that put men on the moon. Enjoy a flight into space by following the upcoming flight of Discovery, STS-133.