Electrical glitches have caused a launch delay for the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery. NASA announced that its Prelaunch Mission Management Team wants to give engineers more time to look deeply into electrical issues from a main engine computer controller that cropped up this morning. Therefore, the launch of space shuttle Discovery on STS-133 has been delayed until at least Thursday, the space agency said.
Mike Moses, chair of the MMT, said the problems are believed to be tied to a circuit breaker in the shuttle's cockpit.
Rather than rush the shuttle launch team through an analysis and launch cycle quickly, Moses said he opted to let the engineers work throughout the night on the issue without having to worry about an early morning tanking and Wednesday afternoon launch. The MMT announced it will meet this afternoon and then decide whether to try to launch Thursday. A liftoff Thursday would be at 3:29 p.m. EDT, according to information released by the space agency.
Mission STS-133 will be the final flight for the space shuttle Discovery. 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. According to NASA files, Discovery has flown more missions than any other shuttle-more than any other spacecraft, in fact.
After 38 missions to date, and more than 5,600 trips around Earth, Discovery has carried satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit and sent the Ulysses robotic probe on its way to the sun. It was the first shuttle to rendezvous with the Russian Mir Space Station, and it delivered the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS). For its last mission, the shuttle and its crew will deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module (akin to a large storage closet) and the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide critical spare components to the ISS.
"It's 10 years that we've had a continuous presence on board the space station," Royce Renfrew, lead space station flight director for the mission, said about the module. "If you think about it, if you've lived in your house 10 years, you've accumulated a lot of stuff, and it doesn't look like the pristine, empty house that you moved into. We've gotten into a configuration now on the space station where we have a lot of stuff and we don't have a lot of space to put it in."
This time around, Discovery will carry a crew of six to and from the space station-Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe, and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.
The mission profile for the shuttle also noted that in addition to a host of new science experiments and hardware, there's Robonaut 2, the first dexterous humanoid robot in space. "Although its first priority will be to test its operation in microgravity, upgrades could eventually allow it to fulfill its ultimate purpose of becoming an astronaut helper on boring or dangerous tasks," a NASA brief said.