The space shuttle, Discovery, is scheduled as the second to last mission for the program. Its last mission, originally scheduled for Monday, Nov. 1, was postponed several times this month. The earliest date the shuttle can now launch is Dec. 17.
The launch was first delayed on Oct. 29, the Friday before the expected Monday launch, due to helium and nitrogen leaks in the pressurization portion. The launch was delayed until the next Wednesday.
Although everything appeared in order, the backup controller for engine three did not turn on during a check out on Tuesday afternoon. This forced a delay until at least Thursday, when the launch was delayed again due to weather. During Friday’s launch attempt, a hydrogen leak was detected, which postponed it until at least Monday, Nov. 8 — the last day in the launch window. It was delayed again when cracks were discovered on two stingers on the external tank. Stingers are 21-foot-long U-shaped aluminum brackets. This problem is currently being worked on, and a meeting will be held tomorrow, Dec. 2, to discuss the clearance for the launch on the 17th of December.
Discovery is a very remarkable space shuttle. Out of all the shuttles, it has flown the most times to space (38 trips) and has carried the most crew members (246 members). These members have included Eileen Collins — the first female to pilot a spacecraft (she was born only 30 miles from Ithaca) — John Glenn — the oldest person to fly in space — and Utah Senator Jake Garn — the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space.
During the 38 prior trips to space, Discovery spent a total of 352 days in orbit; it traveled 143 million miles. It has circled the Earth 5,628 times at a speed of 17,400 miles per hour.
Discovery even helped bring support after the two most devastating events in the space program, the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle explosions. After both losses, Discovery was the first shuttle to return to space and demonstrate the space program’s safety improvements.
The retirement of the space shuttle Discovery will certainly be notable among the public and science community.