If all goes well and the weather is a `go,' space shuttle Discovery will lift off at the Kennedy Space Centre at 3.52 p.m (EDT) on November 3, which approximately corresponds to just after midnight in India. Nasa officials have predicted that there is a 30 per cent chance of weather playing spoilt sport.
This mission has a two-fold significance. First it will be the last flight of the Discovery, which has earned the title of being the true work horse of Nasa. Second, it will carry what is known as Robonaut-2, which will be the first humanoid robot in space.
At a recent media briefing at the Kennedy Space Centre, Steve Lindsay, the commander of the final mission said: ``For us it is a privelege to be on the last flight. We are also sad, because it is being retired. Each time I enter Discovery, it looks new. It will be kept at the Smithsonian in Washington for the benefit of the public,'' he said. Incidentally, this will be Steve's third flight on Discovery.
Another crew member told the media that a small ceremony has been planned to mark the final voyage.Nicole Stott, the woman crew member on this mission said that with the phasing out of the shuttles, many will be laid off at the Kennedy Space Centre.
For ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' Discovery established a family link when STS-95 flew on October 29,1998. What is this personal link? The number 95 is associated with my daughter, Rimanika because she was born in 1995. And what more her b'day is on October 29! Among the crew members on this flight was 77-year-old John Glenn. It was the 25th flight of the Discovery.
This shuttle which first flew on August 30,1984 under the command of Henry W.Hartfield, has logged more missions than any other space shuttle, completing 38 flights, the total number of miles it has flown in the last 26 years being 142, 917, 535. It has spent 8441 hours in space and finished 5628 orbits.
About 245 crew members have flown on the Discovery, who include the first woman pilot, the oldest person, the first African American to perform a spacewalk, the first cosmonaut to fly on an American spacecraft and a sitting member of the US Congress. It took four years to build Discovery and has the distinction of being the first shuttle to dock with the Russian Mir space station. In October 2000, Discovery launched the 100th mission of the space shuttle programme which began on April 12,1981.
Among its notable achievements include launching the Hubbe Space Telescope and operating two return-to-flight missions following the space shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters.
The final flight will be taking with it two key components--the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module and Express Logistics Carrier 4 which will provide spare parts and storage capacity to the International Space Station (ISS). It may be recalled that on November 2,2010, the ISS observed the 10th anniv of the first crew occupation.
The main role of Robonaut-2 is to demonstrate to engineers how robots behave in space. The thinking is that through upgrades and advancements, the robot can one day go outside the ISS to help astronauts to make repairs or perform scientific work. Its weight is 300 pounds and is equipped with five cameras. Robonaut-2 will be installed in the US Destiny lab of the ISS, providing scientists and engineers on the ground and crews on the station an opportunity to test how humans and human-like robots can work shoulder-to-shoulder in mircrogravity.
A number of other scientific experiments have also been planned on this last mission of Discovery which is slated to return on November 14,2010.
If possible, ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' will stay awake tonight and participate in the launch of Discovery by watching Nasa TV. I hope if comes off well.
Farewell Discovery! Be sure if ever I come to Washington--a place I love--I will come and see you.