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Author Topic: with a woman in command and an Australian on board.  (Read 941 times)

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« on: July 13, 2005, 11:21:30 am »

Well, they are totaly screwed aren't they.  Cry
I hope he has a slab and a barbie.  Grin

Discovery mission in final countdown

NASA is just hours away from its much-vaunted return to human space flight, with a woman in command and an Australian on board.

The space shuttle Discovery is expected to blast off at 5:51am AEST on Thursday despite a last-minute hitch.

Discovery's mission is the first space shuttle flight since Columbia disintegrated during its return to earth more than two years ago, killing seven astronauts.

When the shuttle blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a plume of fire, it will kick-start the stalled construction of the International Space Station and mark the first step on the US's road back to the moon, to Mars and beyond.

But US space officials warn many things can still go wrong.

Thunderstorms or strong winds could force a delay, as could technical problems with one of the shuttle's 2.5 million parts.

"It's a dangerous business," NASA administrator Michael Griffin said. "It will be for the foreseeable future.

"We work every time to make it's less dangerous than the time before, every time to make it more reliable than the time before.

"But this is a matter to be regarded with the perspective of generations and not weeks, months. With 113 launches under our belt, this is still an experimental test flight program."

A last-minute mishap highlighted the dangers.

A falling window cover damaged two heat-resistant tiles near Discovery's tail as the hulking shuttle sat on the launchpad, briefly casting doubt on the launch schedule.

Columbia fell apart on February 1, 2003, because falling foam from the external fuel tank had knocked a hole in its wing during lift-off 16 days earlier.

When the shuttle returned to the earth's atmosphere, superheated gases ate into the breach.

Much of NASA's expensive efforts since have been directed at minimising the possibility of falling debris at lift-off.

One of Discovery's main missions will be to see whether those efforts have paid off and to test experimental repair techniques if they have not.
Weather watch

The shuttle's commander is Eileen Collins, a veteran astronaut and mother of two who is scared of roller coasters.

Australian-born Thomas says he is feeling humbled and "a great sense of privilege" about being on the flight.

Discovery and its crew will face daunting conditions on take-off.

The shuttle's two solid rocket boosters will pour out 3 million kilograms of thrust and enough energy to light 87,000 homes for a day.

Weather conditions will have to be perfect, not just in the flight path but at emergency landing zones at Cape Canaveral, elsewhere in the United States and in Europe.

Apart from testing NASA's shuttle alterations, Discovery is due to deliver needed supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), a 16-nation project.

Construction of the station has been on hold since the three remaining space shuttles were grounded after the Columbia accident. The station has been run by a two-man skeleton crew.

The ISS will also serve as a safe haven for shuttle astronauts if Discovery is damaged. It has enough oxygen, water and supplies to accommodate the seven-person crew for about eight weeks.

It will provide the same function for the next scheduled shuttle mission in September.

After that, Mr Griffin says shuttle missions will be on their own because NASA will not be able to reserve a second shuttle to act as a rescue craft and still keep to the schedule of delivering parts to the station to allow its construction to be completed by 2010.

Under a new vision for space exploration announced by US President George W Bush, the shuttle's return to flight and the completion of the space station are essential steps toward the shuttle fleet's retirement.

Once mothballed in 2010, the aging shuttles will in theory be replaced by a new generation of spacecraft that will allow humankind to return to the moon and eventually head for Mars.
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