NASA has postponed the last launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery until it can fix a dangerous hydrogen leak. NASA officials are blaming the leak on a seal which may not have been properly aligned. The leak was discovered as the orbiter was being fueled for flight, according to Reuters.
The next time NASA will be able to attempt a launch will be Nov. 30.
The Discovery is set to deliver parts to the International Space Station. A storage room, spare parts and a prototype humanoid robot are amongst the items set to be delivered.
Additionally, a crack was found in the insulating foam after the launch had already been scrubbed.
Last Flight of Discovery
This flight of Discovery was to be the last one of the entire shuttle program until Congress approved an additional flight for February of 2011. The hydrogen leak and insulating foam crack have dogged shuttle flights for years despite 30 years of experience flight engineers have with the space shuttle. Insulating foam caused the Columbia disaster, as a hole was punctured in the wing and the orbiter burned up on re-entry.
The space shuttle program is the longest-running program in NASA’s history. When Endeavour launches in February, it will truly be an end of an era for manned spaceflight. NASA made shuttle missions seem like regular and routine events, despite the fact that a great deal of work goes into a single shuttle launch.
After the shuttle is retired, NASA has several exciting scientific missions ready to go in 2011. As per a mandate from President Obama in 2010, NASA will focus on robotic and unmanned missions revolving around earth and other bodies in our solar system.
Robotic missions to Jupiter and Mars are also planned as Juno will orbit Jupiter to take measurements around the poles. The Juno mission will try to determine the origins of the solar system’s largest planet.
The Mars Science Laboratory will launch in November 2011. This high-profile mission will put a rover on Mars to determine if microbial life exists on Mars and if the planet is inhabitable in any way.
The future of manned spaceflight is currently in doubt. Billions of dollars are going toward privatizing spaceflight missions to deliver crews to the International Space Station. Obama’s space travel goal is to eventually make it to Mars and the asteroid belt by around 2030. Research into advanced rocketry is currently underway.
Obama’s tactics and funding for NASA revolve around saving money and human life by reducing our need for humans to travel extensively into space. Robotic missions and advanced technology are the objectives of his administration in order to make space missions cheaper and more efficient.
Mothballing the space shuttle fleet isn’t about getting rid of a useless project. Obama and NASA are trying to move forward and use America’s engineering prowess to usher in a new era of space flight in the 21st Century.
Klotz, Irene, “NASA finds faulty seal after delayed shuttle launch”, Reuters.com.
Abrams, Jim, “Congress backs Obama plan on NASA’s future”, Yahoo! News.
NASA, “NASA’s Shuttle and Rocket Launch Schedule”, NASA.gov.
White House, “National Space Policy”, WhiteHouse.gov.