When the space shuttle Discovery launches at 4:50 p.m. EST on Thursday (weather permitting) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the mission will be one of the history books. The five-man, one-woman crew will be the last to take flight on Discovery, as NASA plans to retire the fleet. One more launch is scheduled for April and an extra one is planned for June, although it is currently without funding.
Air Force meteorologists are predicting breezy conditions, but at the moment they look to be within NASA’s limits for a liftoff. The plan is to dock at the International Space Station at approximately 2:16 p.m. on Saturday.
Discovery’s mission, which will last 11 days, is to carry the Permanent Multipurpose Module, which provides the crew stationed at the space station with extra storage space and room to conduct experiments. The module also contains a “human-like” robot—the first of such that will be transported into space, according to NASA.
This is the last year for NASA’s space shuttle program. The Discovery launch was originally scheduled for October, but a fuel leak and cracks in the fuel tank’s insulating foam raised concerns about a manufacturing defect in the underlying structure.
We’ve all grown up accustomed to space shuttle launches — mostly without incident, but with a few notable exceptions, of course. I remember growing up and looking into the night sky when I knew there was a U.S. mission underway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the shuttle gliding among the stars.
But this is it for our kids, who won’t have the benefit of daydreaming about space exploration while watching and reading about real-live astronauts in outer space as it happens. The countdown begins at 3 p.m. on Thursday, and with any luck (if that’s what you call what rocket scientists do for a living), the Discovery will blast off an hour and fifty minutes later for its 39th and final mission. Because this looks to be the end of the space shuttle program in our lifetime, it should be must-see TV.
Will you watch the launch of Discovery with your kids?
Image: Wikimedia Commons