November 19, 2010 — Maybe December will be luckier than November for space shuttle Discovery.
The launch of Discovery has been postponed — again — and now the space shuttle is not expected to launch to the International Space Station until early December.
Technical problems and weather issues have postponed Discovery’s final trip to the orbiting space station. The shuttle was originally scheduled to launch on November 1, but helium and nitrogen leaks pushed the launch to November 2. Then, when repairs took longer than expected, the launch was delayed another day. On November 4, electrical issues caused the launch to be delayed, while poor weather postponed the launch on November 5. Then, on November 6, NASA technicians found hydrogen gas leaks and cracks that caused NASA to delay the launch until November 30.
Now the launch date has now been extended at least three more days, to no earlier that 2:52 a.m. EST on December 3.
NASA officials said today that technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida installed new sections of metal, called “doublers” because they are twice as thick as the original stringer metal, to replace the two cracked stringers on space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank. Caps at the end of the stringers and replacement foam insulation were also to be installed today.
The 11-day STS-133 mission will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module to the station. The PMM, which was converted from the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, will provide additional storage for the station crew and experiments may be conducted inside it, such as fluid physics, materials science, biology and biotechnology. The flight will also transport critical spare parts and the Express Logistics Carrier 4 to the station. ELC4 is an external platform that holds large equipment. Robonaut 2, or R2, will be the first human-like robot in space when it flies on Discovery inside the PMM to become a permanent resident of the station.
The mission will also feature two spacewalks to take care of maintenance work and install new components.
Commander Steve Lindsey leads the veteran crew, which includes Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.
STS-133 is the final shuttle mission planned for 2010, Discovery’s 39th flight and the 35th shuttle mission to the station.
On Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians reattach the vent line to the ground umbilical carrier plate, or GUCP, on space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky
Detail of crack in external tank stringer. Photo credit: NASA