A fuel leak has caused the delay of space shuttle Discovery's final flight until the end of November, NASA said.
The space shuttle Discovery's liftoff to the International Space Station was
postponed for a third time because of a leak in the ground umbilical carrier
plate at Launch Pad 39A, which prompted a scrub of Friday's launch attempt,
NASA officials reported. Discovery's six STS-133
astronauts left NASA's Kennedy Space
Center in their T-38 jets Friday
afternoon to return home to the space agency's Johnson
in Houston. Discovery's next
possible launch opportunity comes Nov. 30, according to a NASA release.
The space agency also reported that mission managers will look at a crack in
the external tank foam that developed as super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid
oxygen were being drained from the tank-although the crack did not develop
until after the launch attempt was called off, NASA said. The planned launch
last Wednesday had already been delayed due to electrical issues stemming from
a main engine computer controller.
When Discovery heads to the ISS on its final mission, it will be taking with
it two key components-the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) and
Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4)-that will
provide spare parts and storage capacity to the orbiting complex. Discovery
also will deliver Robonaut 2, which will become the first humanoid robot in
NASA engineers said they hope Robonaut 2, the latest generation of the
Robonaut astronaut helpers, can help teach engineers how dexterous robots
behave in space. "The hope is that through upgrades and advancements, it
could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or
additions to the station or perform scientific work," a NASA release
R2, as the robot is called, will launch inside the Leonardo Permanent
Multipurpose Module, which will be packed with supplies and equipment for the
station and then installed permanently on the Unity node. Once R2 is unpacked-likely
several months after it arrives-it will initially be operated inside the
Destiny laboratory for operational testing, but over time both its territory
and its applications could expand. A NASA mission statement noted there are no
plans to return R2 to Earth.
Discovery was NASA's third space shuttle orbiter to join the fleet at Kennedy
and is currently the oldest orbiter in service. Early in its career, Discovery
provided a base so astronauts could retrieve satellites, test new technologies
and conduct two-week-long experiments in microgravity. NASA turned twice to
Discovery for Return-to-Flight missions after accidents with shuttles
Challenger and Columbia, and it
launched the agency's landmark observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope.
A medallion from the Royal Society honoring explorer Capt. James Cook will
be carried aboard the space shuttle during STS-133.
Cook's third expedition of the Pacific Ocean included a
ship named HMS Discovery, one of the vessels shuttle Discovery is named after.
Also flying on Discovery will be two small Lego space shuttles, each with a
tiny toy astronaut, to help celebrate a new educational partnership between the
toy-building brick maker and NASA.
"I don't think you can take a final voyage of a ship of exploration and
not take some moments to celebrate its history," said Mission Specialist
Michael Barratt. "And I think many people know that our ship, Discovery,
which is a ship of exploration, was named after several predecessor ships also
named Discovery, all ships of exploration."