Space Shuttle Discovery arrives at International Space Station – Final time in its career

The Space Shuttle Discovery, flying the STS-133 mission, has successfully rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) today at 18:14 UTC for what is scheduled to be the final time in its career.

Discovery is delivering six astronauts to the orbiting outpost, as well as station parts and supplies including the Permanent Multipurpose Module Leonardo, the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-4 and Robonaut2, the first dexterous humanoid robot in space.

The docking, Discovery’s 13th and final scheduled docking, occurred two minutes ahead of schedule, having been originally scheduled for 19:16 GMT today.

The Space Shuttle Discovery (pictured docked to ISS) has docked with the International Space Station for what is scheduled to be the final time on the STS-133 mission today. Image: NASA.

The hatch between the space shuttle and the ISS was opened at 20:16 UTC, after which the crew members of Expedition 26 welcomed the crew of STS-133 aboard the station. The crew then participated in a safety briefing with Expedition 26 commander Scott Kelly, while Shuttle Flight Director Bryan Lunney took part in a mission status briefing on the ground which began at 20:50 UTC.

Later on today, crew members Nicole Stott and Michael Barratt are scheduled to move the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-4 from the payload bay using the shuttle’s robotic arm to the station’s own robot arm for placement on the exterior of the orbital laboratory.

Official STS-133 crew portrait. From left to right: Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Eric Boe, Steven Lindsey, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen Image: NASA.

There was a delay in the docking mechanism’s ability to make a seal between the two spacecraft during docking operations, so activities occurring later on in the day, including the transfer of ELC-4, may be delayed. This was primarily because of a mis-alignment between the docking systems of the shuttle and station due to gravitational effects. The entire delay took up approximately 40 minutes.

During Discovery’s approach to the station earlier on today, the crew of Expedition 26 took pictures of the shuttle’s underside from the station’s windows in order to assist in analysis of the heat shield of the spacecraft.

NASA officials are debating whether or not to extend the mission an additional day for a photo shoot of the International Space Station, as it is currently host to six docked spacecraft from the United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan. A decision regarding this possibility is expected on Tuesday.

STS-133 is Space Shuttle Discovery’s 39th and final scheduled mission into space and the program’s 35th mission to the ISS, as well as the 133rd in the entire Shuttle Program. There are two flights remaining before the retirement of the fleet that are still in planning: STS-134 and STS-135.

Space Shuttle Discovery launches on final mission

At 4:53 p.m. (EDT), Space Shuttle Discovery took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on its final mission, STS-133. Its mission is to deliver and install onto the International Space Station (ISS), the Permanent Multipurpose Module Leonardo, the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-4 and provide critical spare components for the station. Six astronauts, Steve Lindsey, Eric Boe, Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen, are participating in the mission. The shuttle is also carrying Robonaut2, the first dexterous humanoid robot to be 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.

The Space Shuttle Discovery launched on its final mission, STS-133 (crew pictured), today. Image: NASA.

The launch of Discovery, which was supposed to occur at 4:50 p.m., was delayed for three minutes due to a technical problem in the shuttle’s command system and a chipped heat shield tile near the crew hatch which needed to be patched. The launch was also repeatedly postponed since November 1 due to various technical problems with the shuttle’s systems and a hydrogen leak in the fuel tank along with cracks and bad weather. A small piece of foam broke off during the launch but NASA has reported that it is unlikely to cause problems.

Discovery and the crew of STS-133 are scheduled to spend just under two weeks in space and aboard the ISS, logging 4.5 million additional miles of flight.

Space Shuttle Discovery launches on the STS-133 mission. Image: JoshuaZ.

The launch comes just hours after an unmanned automated European cargo spacecraft, ATV-2, docked with the orbiting outpost to deliver supplies and equipment to the crew.

STS-133 is scheduled to be the final mission of Discovery, with its first being STS-41-D in 1984. Discovery flew 39 flights in its operational history, including the current mission, delivering several payloads to space including the Hubble Space Telescope and visiting two different space stations: Mir and the ISS. STS-133 is the 133rd shuttle mission and the 35th mission to the ISS. Discovery is the oldest surviving shuttle, and has flown more missions than any other shuttle. It was also the first shuttle to fly after the Challenger disaster and was the first shuttle to fly after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Later, Discovery became the first shuttle to fly a Russian cosmonaut.

After the current mission, there will be at most two remaining shuttle flights. Endeavor has one more mission remaining, and if an emergency rescue is needed or more funding is secured, Atlantis will also fly once more before the entire fleet is retired.

“The shuttle has provided an amazing capacity for this country to gather data. I think we’re still sorting through a lot of it, trying to figure out what all we’ve learned from it. This chapter in our space history known as the space shuttle has been incredible,” said Bryan Lunney, lead space shuttle flight director for the mission.

Final launch of Space Shuttle Discovery delayed another day

The launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final mission, STS-133, has been delayed another day. Launch is now targeted for 3:52 PM EDT on Wednesday, November 3.

The launch of NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery (pictured above on launch pad) will be delayed another day to accommodate repairs to several leaks. Image: NASA.

Discovery’s launch was originally scheduled for this Monday, but was delayed until the following day after several helium and nitrogen leaks were discovered aboard the shuttle. The initial delay was to accommodate repairs to these leaks. These repairs are taking longer than expected according to NASA officials.

According to a NASA statement, repair technicians worked through the night to facilitate repairs to these leaks but “are slightly behind the timeline that was prepared yesterday”. If the shuttle isn’t ready to launch by November 7, the launch will be pushed into December.

STS-133 will deliver supplies and components to the International Space Station, including the Permanent Multipurpose Module and the third of four ExPRESS Logistics Carriers. Two spacewalks are to be performed by the crew during their 11 day mission, the 133rd flight of the Space Shuttle Program and the 39th flight of Discovery.

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