Saturday, August 29, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Discovery!

At about midnight last night/this morning, the shuttle Discovery blasted off on a mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). This is Discovery's 37th mission, and her 10th to the ISS.

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Discovery's maiden flight, STS-41D, which flew from August 30 to September 5, 1984.

Given her role in constructing the ISS, it's perhaps fitting that one of the primary experiments on Discovery's first flight was a test of the OAST-1 solar array. This was a prototype of the solar panels that now supply power to the ISS. Folded into a package that was 13 feet wide but only 7 inches deep, the OAST-1 was extended to a full length of 102 feet. Discovery also deployed three communications satellites during the mission.

Discovery's launch had been delayed since the originally-scheduled date in June 1984. A launch attempt on June 26, 1984 resulted in the shutdown of the Space Shuttle Main Engines after a few seconds. (Astronaut Steve Hawley quipped, "Gee, I thought we'd be a lot higher at MECO [Main Engine Cut-Off]!") About 10 minutes later, while the crew were still strapped in their seats, there was a hydrogen fire at the base of the launch pad. It was a very tense and dangerous situation, and NASA revised its safety procedures using the lessons learned from this pad abort.

It's sad to note that this was Judith Resnick's first flight, and that her first launch attempt was such a scary one. She perished a year and a half later aboard Challenger.

When Discovery flew, she was the third and newest Space Shuttle. With the loss of Challenger and Columbia, Discovery is now the oldest orbiter in the fleet.

There is speculation that Discovery will replace the Shuttle Enterprise at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center once the Space Shuttle program ends in late 2010.

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