NASA Space Shuttle Discovery Prepares for Final Flight

The space shuttle Discovery has been rolled into position on the launchpad for its final flight, NASA reports.

NASA announced the space shuttle Discovery's final trip to Launch Pad 39A is complete. Discovery began the 3.4-mile rollout from Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building on Sept. 20 and rolled into place on the launch pad early Sept. 21, NASA reported. Discovery's STS-133 mission is targeted to launch to the International Space Station on Nov. 1 on Discovery's last scheduled flight before it is retired. Two spacewalks (EVAs) are also scheduled during the flight.

During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crewmembers will take spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4 (ELC). The ELC is an unpressurized attached payload project for the ISS that provides mechanical mounting surfaces, electrical power and command and data handling services for science experiments on the space station. An ELC provides scientists with a platform and infrastructure to deploy experiments in the vacuum of space without requiring a separate dedicated Earth-orbiting satellite.

The STS-133 crewmembers 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, NASA reported. The space shuttle is also set to carry SpaceX's DragonEye (DE) relative navigation sensor on STS-133. The sensor is expected to be installed two weeks later than planned, following a laser rod failure during testing. In addition, STS-133 will be carrying the signatures of more than 500,000 students who are participating in the 2010 Student Signatures in Space program, which is jointly sponsored by NASA and Lockheed Martin.

For the first time, the space agency is turning to the public to help choose songs to wake up the astronauts during the last two scheduled shuttle missions. Traditionally, friends and family of the crews select the songs played to wake up the astronauts, but for the last two scheduled missions, NASA is inviting the public to 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.

The two songs with the most votes from the top 40 list will be played as crew wakeup calls on the final scheduled flight of space shuttle Discovery. Discovery's STS-133 mission is targeted to launch on Nov. 1, according to the space agency. "We're looking forward to hearing which songs the public wants played for us," said STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey. "It's going to be a difficult choice, because there have been so many great songs played over the years."

As NASA's final two 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 will lay off about 15 percent of its current space shuttle workforce, effective Oct. 1.

The reduction in force will affect 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 operations contract work scope and current budget."