NASA’s Discovery shuttle’s last scheduled flight has been delayed for a second time. The first delay was due to last-minute repairs on leaks that were previously worked on. It was originally set to launch on Monday, November 1 and the setback delayed the mission until Tuesday. Given that Tuesday was Election Day, they thought that that fact, combined with the great interest people would have in seeing the launch, would create a nightmarish traffic congestion. The date was reset to Wednesday but put off until Friday, November 5 because of weather conditions. Now, however, it’s believed that the possibly risky hydrogen leak might be due to a misaligned seal. A large crack, close to 20 inches long, has also been discovered in the fuel tank, in the insulating foam. Previously, it was thought that if not launched by November 7, they’d have to wait until December because of disadvantageous sun angles. NASA can now launch again on November 30 at 4:05 am EST if the repairs are finished by then.
The November launch, an 11-day mission, will be the last flight for the Discovery, delivering the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module to the U.S. portion of the International Space Station. The ISS began in 1995 with the Shuttle-Mir program. The station will be home to a myriad of research studies, including: the nature of space; flames, fluids and metal in space; life in low gravity; tissue culture; protein crystal studies; watching the Earth and Commercialization.
Beyond the shuttle program, other plans are being formed. The Obama administration is interested in deeper space explorations. In a speech given earlier this year, at the commencement of the Conference on the American Space Program for the 21st Century, President Obama asked NASA to create a spacecraft devoid of a crew to be sent into the ISS, which would then be used as an emergency vehicle for the astronauts stationed there.
The NASA space exploration program has great plans for the future, centering on returning to the moon and going further, with human exploration of Mars and beyond. NASA has formed several Exploration Study Teams. They are: Flagship Technology Demonstrations, Commercial Crew and Cargo, Enabling Technology Development and Demonstration, Exploration Precursor Robotic Missions, Human Research and Heavy Lift and Propulsion Technologies. These promise intriguing new investigations that will enhance our understanding of and possibilities with the universe.