NASA's shuttle program Mission Management Team met this morning as the countdown remained on track to launch space shuttle Discovery Wednesday on the STS-133 mission, with a scheduled launch time just before 4 p.m. EDT.
The weather forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time, while NASA reported those odds fall to 40 percent for Thursday. The space agency noted the launch window extends until Sunday.
At the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians will load super-cold oxygen and hydrogen into Discovery's on-board tanks this morning. The hydrogen and oxygen are going into Discovery's power reactant storage and distribution system that supplies the shuttle with electrical power during the mission. The process is often abbreviated to "PRSD load."
Discovery is headed to the International Space Station (ISS) for an 11-day mission to deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module and its host of supplies and equipment to the orbiting outpost. During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crewmembers will take important spare parts to the ISS along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4, an unpressurized attached payload project that provides mechanical mounting surfaces, electrical power, and command and data handling services for science experiments on the ISS.
The STS-133 crew members are Commander Steven Lindsey; Pilot Eric Boe; and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott. This will be the 35th shuttle mission to the station, according to NASA. The space agency is offering the public two ways to play a small role in the last shuttle flights. Visitors to the "Face in Space" Website can upload their portrait to fly with the astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission: Almost 150,000 photos already have been submitted.
NASA also is inviting the public to choose songs to wake up the astronauts during the upcoming shuttle missions. Visit the "Wakeup Song Contest" Website to select songs from a list of the top 40 previous wakeup calls or to submit original tunes for consideration. More than 2.1 million votes have been cast for songs for STS-133. Voting will end when Discovery lifts off on Wednesday.
As NASA's final space shuttle launches loom on the not-too-distant horizon, the fears of many of those who work in the shuttle industry are coming true: NASA's main space contractor, United Space Alliance (USA), announced that the company is laying off about 15 percent of its current space shuttle workforce.
The reduction in force affects multiple disciplines and multiple organizations across the company. It is expected to impact about 800 to 1,000 employees in Florida, about 300 to 400 employees in Texas, and about 10 in Alabama. The company said the cuts were necessary "in order to align the workforce level with the company's space shuttle program operation's contract work scope and current budget."
The space agency will also be forced to cancel its ambitious "Constellation" program in the wake of a bill passed by the Senate this week. The bill, which will be sent to President Obama to sign, authorizes $58 billion to NASA over the next three years. The NASA authorization bill, S. 3729, also allows the space agency to fly one more shuttle mission than the last two currently planned, and directs NASA to begin work on a heavy-lift rocket that could launch an expedition to an asteroid or to Mars.