As the space agency's storied space shuttle program winds down, NASA announced it has "baselined" the STS-135 mission for a target launch date of June 28. The mission would see space shuttle Atlantis deliver supplies to the International Space Station, including a replacement for a malfunctioning pump, and conduct a spacewalk. The last two scheduled launches-Discovery's on Feb. 24 and the last Atlantis launch in April, would conclude a program three decades old and is in many ways NASA's most visible projects.
NASA spokesman Michael Curie told The Associated Press the agency is currently working on garnering support from the federal government to expand its budget, which the agency needs in order to launch another shuttle. "We're optimistic that the funding will be there," Curie told the news agency, without elaborating.
Meanwhile, after a bike accident left mission STS-133 spacewalker Tim Kopra injured, NASA announced it would replace Kopra with astronaut Steve Bowen. "Steve is an ideal candidate, and we have complete confidence he'll contribute to a fully successful STS-133 mission," Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said in a statement. "He has performed five prior spacewalks. That extensive experience, coupled with some adjustments to the spread of duties among the crew, will allow for all mission objectives to be accomplished as originally planned in the current launch window."
During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crewmembers will take important spare parts to ISS along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4. Discovery will also deliver a final module to the U.S. segment of the station, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut2. The new module will be a storeroom and provide additional research space. Robonaut2 is a technology demonstration to learn how humanoid robots can assist crews in orbit. Discovery also will carry a host of spare equipment to be stored aboard the complex.
According to information provided by NASA, in 38 trips to space, Discovery has spent 352 days in orbit, almost a full year. Discovery has circled Earth 5,628 times, all the while speeding along at 17,400 miles per hour. It has traveled almost 143 million miles. That equals 288 round trips to the moon or about one and a half trips to the sun.
Discovery's first launch was Aug. 30, 1984, on mission STS-41D. That flight launched three communications satellites and tested an experimental solar array wing. It took four years to build Discovery, the third shuttle orbiter built. The shuttle has also carried more crewmembers -- 246 -- than any space vehicle. Those have included the first female to ever pilot a spacecraft, the oldest person to fly in space, the first African-American to perform a spacewalk, the first cosmonaut to fly on an American spacecraft and the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space.
The space agency also reported astronaut Rick Sturckow will serve as a backup commander for the STS-134 space shuttle mission to facilitate continued training for the crew and support teams during STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly's absence. Kelly's wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was critically wounded in a shooting Jan. 8 in Tucson. Kelly remains commander of the mission, which is targeted for launch on April 19 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.