NASA announced the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to begin an 11-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a launch at 4:50 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 24, from the space agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mission STS-133 is currently scheduled as Discovery's final flight.
Discovery's launch date was announced Friday at the conclusion of a flight readiness review at Kennedy. During the meeting, senior NASA and contractor managers assessed the risks associated with the mission and determined the shuttle and station's equipment, support systems and personnel are ready.
The six astronauts for the mission will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) to the station. The PMM was converted from the multipurpose logistics module Leonardo and will provide additional storage for the station crew. Experiments in such fields as fluid physics, materials science, biology and biotechnology may be conducted inside the module.
The PMM also carries Robonaut 2, the first humanlike robot in space, which will become a permanent resident of the station. In addition, the flight will deliver critical spare parts and the Express Logistics Carrier 4, an external platform that holds large equipment.
STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey and his crew arrived at Kennedy on Sunday for final launch preparations. Joining Lindsey are Pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott. Bowen and Drew will conduct two spacewalks to install new components and perform maintenance.
Discovery's launch will occur 6 hours after the planned docking of the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 "Johannes Kepler" to the space station. STS-133 is the first mission planned for 2011. It is Discovery's 39th flight and 35th shuttle mission to the station. There are two other flights planned before the shuttle retires this year.
The Space Shuttle Program baselined the STS-135 mission for a target launch date of June 28. It is NASA's intent to fly the mission with orbiter Atlantis carrying the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the ISS. The mission also will fly a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and return a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.
In late December, the agency's Space Operations Mission Directorate requested the shuttle and ISS programs take the necessary steps to maintain the capability to fly Atlantis on the STS-135 mission. The Authorization Act of 2010 directs NASA to conduct the mission, and baselining the flight enables the program to begin preparations for the mission. The operation would be the 135th and final space shuttle flight.