Tag Archives: STS-133

The End of the Program

My last entry on this blog was about the 8th anniversary of STS-107, the Columbia disaster. Nearly every day for about 3 weeks after February 1st, I watched the video of the Flight Control team in Houston dealing with the tragedy as it unfolded. Every day I would watch this tragedy unfold and relive the horror that the flight controllers felt. It was not a good way to start my day, yet I chose to do so…

Then came the STS-133 mission. I geared up for the February 24th launch, watched it at work, nearly had a heart attack when the range went and stayed red, and loved seeing Discovery launch one final time. The launch was picture perfect, the flight was amazing, and the landing was essentially textbook, in fairly difficult conditions. Discovery landed at KSC at 1158 EST on March 9th and mission commander Steve Lindsey called “Wheels Stop”, bringing Discovery’s final mission to a close.

The mission was flawless, the orbiter, boosters, and external tank performed excellently. The Space Shuttle system, while still experimental due to its small number of flights, is becoming mature and coming in to its own.  There are only two flights remaining.

Why are we shutting down this program? Why are we taking this excellently functional, amazing hardware and turning them in to museum pieces. Why are we giving up our nation’s capacity to get humans into space without anything in the pipeline to re-acquire the capability to do so?

Admittedly, flying the shuttle is dangerous, probably more dangerous than any of the previous spacecraft that have been flown (with the exception of the Soviet Buran shuttle). Admittedly, the price per pound is high to get the shuttle and its cargo and crew into space, but no other spacecraft has the lift capability of the shuttle to get things into space.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about commercial space. I admire the folks working to create this capability in the commercial sector, and am proud that SpaceX is the first company to launch something into orbit, then de-orbit it and recover it safely. This is an amazing achievement and they should be praised for it. However, I don’t think our nation should give up the civil capacity to get people into space.

I’ve noted my complaints and rants. I’ve made my feelings known, and I’m still depressed about the end of the program. When I saw Discovery land watched the wheels stop and realized that y favorite orbiter will never be in space again, I cried. This line in this picture is the furthest she will ever travel on her own energy:

There are two Space Shuttle missions left. I will celebrate them and be happy when the crew comes home safely and the mission is completed. I’m going to stop what I’m doing and watch the launches, landings, and coverage of the missions. But when the program ends, I’m going to be very sad.

 

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Links for 2011-01-04

Possible cause for ET-137 stringer damage found – http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2011/01/sts-133-et-137-investigation-boosted-potential-root-cause/

What’s up with the Countdown in Monday’s HIMYM episode? – http://blogcritics.org/video/article/the-how-i-met-your-mother/

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STS-133 Launch Delays Shows What NASA Has Learned

We’re nearing the end of the Space Shuttle program. There are two, maybe three flights left. In almost every briefing I’ve watched about the STS-132 and STS-133 missions, there has been at least one question about how the workforce is doing, asking if their emotions are getting in the way of their jobs, and asking, though not directly if the quality and dedication to their work is slipping at the end of the program. The care with which NASA is investigating the GUCP issue as well as the cracked stringers in the ET, shows that NASA has learned and is still learning from the mistakes of Apollo 1, STS-51L, and STS-107.

NASA doesn’t appear to be rushing through to get the problem fixed so they can fly, they appear to be following their (admittedly bushy) fault trees to run the issues down and fully understand them before even thinking about flying again. It’s amazing to see the tweets of those affected by the change in launch dates, there’s no anger, there’s no “Why can’t we fly now?”, it’s just the dates have changed and we’re working around that. The NASA folks I’ve met in person and online are dedicated to their jobs, dedicated to the program, and dedicated to flying only when it’s safe.

I’m proud of the NASA folks that I’ve met. I’m lucky to be a part of the space community and the Space Tweep Society and lucky to have made friends out of my interest in space.

Mike Leinbach, the Shuttle Launch Director has summed it up very elegantly in a couple of briefings on STS-133. To quote him, “We’re going to fly when we’re ready and not before that.” Also, “Right now our machine is broken and we need to go fix it.” In my mind, these quotes sum up NASA’s attitude very well. When Discovery is safe to fly, she will fly. Until then, she will stay on the ground…

Click to see a great photo of Discovery as she was being rolled out to the pad.

Photo Credit: Larry Tanner, United Space Alliance

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