Space Shuttle Discovery launches

CrewMission: STS-131
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Launch Time: 1:34 p.m. EDT

This is the crew os STS-131.  Commander Alan Poindexter will lead the mission to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery.

Discovery will deliver a multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks to be transferred to laboratories on the International Space Station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

The astronauts will conduct three six-and-a-half-hour-long spacewalks on flight days 5, 7 and 9 to replace an ammonia tank assembly, retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior and switch out a rate gyro assembly on the S0 element of the station’s truss.

STS-131 is the 33rd shuttle mission to the station.

See a film of a Shuttle launch

How much does the Space Shuttle cost?

  • The Space Shuttle Endeavour, the orbiter built to replace the Space Shuttle Challenger, cost approximately $1.7 billion.

What is a launch window?

  • A launch window is the precise period of time, ranging from minutes to hours, within which a launch must occur for a rocket or Space Shuttle to be positioned in the proper orbit.
  • Sometimes, this window is determined by the passing of an orbiting spacecraft with which the orbiter must rendezvous, such as the International Space Station or an ailing satellite.
  • At other times, the Space Shuttle or an unmanned rocket must be launched within a certain window so that it can release its satellite payload at the right time to place it in an orbit over a certain region of Earth.

What are the names of the Space Shuttle orbiters?

  • Their names, in the order they were built, are Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour.
  • The Enterprise was flown only within Earth’s atmosphere, during Shuttle approach and landing tests conducted in 1977.
  • Columbia flew the first five Shuttle missions, beginning in April 1981, and was modified to fly extended-duration missions as long as 16 days. Columbia and its seven-member crew were lost during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003.
  • Challenger was built as a vibration-test vehicle and then upgraded to become the second operational Shuttle. The Challenger and its seven-member crew were lost in a launch accident on Jan. 28, 1986.
  • Discovery made its first flight in August 1984, and Atlantis followed in October 1985.
  • Endeavour, built to replace Challenger, made its debut in May 1992 with a dramatic mission that featured the rescue of a stranded Intelsat 6 commercial communications satellite.

How are NASA program names such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo chosen?

  • NASA officials consider a variety of factors when choosing a name for a program. Sometimes the names are descriptive, like Skylab or the Space Shuttle. Some names honor famous scientists and explorers, like Galileo, Hubble and Magellan.
  • Others are chosen from classical mythology that relates to some feature of the mission. Mercury was the messenger of the gods. Gemini, Latin for twins, was appropriate because each Gemini mission carried two astronauts. Apollo was the god of the Sun, who spread knowledge. For the origins of NASA names, please refer to the Web site link below.

How much does it cost to launch a Space Shuttle?

  • The average cost to launch a Space Shuttle is about $450 million per mission.

What types of propellants are used in the Shuttle? How much do they weigh?

  • At liftoff, an orbiter and External Tank carry 835,958 gallons of the principle liquid propellants: hydrogen, oxygen, hydrazine, monomethylhydrazine, and nitrogen tetroxide.
  • The total weight is 1,607,185 pounds.

Can I apply to take a ride on the Space Shuttle? Can I be the first kid in Space?

  • NASA has no immediate plans to send children, teenagers or any other general citizens into space.
  • For the near future at least, space flight remains too risky and too expensive for anyone but highly trained astronauts and payload specialists.
  • However, one of NASA’s goals is to help industry develop new rocket systems that would make space flight much more simple and routine, so that many more people could go into orbit in the future.

How fast does a Shuttle travel? What is its altitude? How much fuel does it use?

  • Like any other object in low-Earth orbit, a Space Shuttle must reach speeds of about 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) to remain in orbit.
  • The exact speed depends on the Space Shuttle’s orbital altitude, which normally ranges from 190 miles to 330 miles (304 kilometers to 528 kilometers) above sea level, depending on its mission.
  • Each of the two Solid Rocket Boosters on the Space Shuttle carries more than one million pounds of solid propellant. The Space Shuttle’s large External Tank is loaded with more than 500,000 gallons of super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which are mixed and burned together to form the fuel for the orbiter’s three main rocket engines.

Can the Space Shuttle fly to the Moon?

  • No, the Space Shuttle is designed to travel in low-Earth orbit (within a few hundred miles of the Earth’s surface).
  • It does not carry enough propellant to leave Earth’s orbit and travel to the Moon. The Space Shuttle also is not designed to land on the Moon since it lands like an airplane and the Moon has no atmosphere. The Shuttle could be used to carry pieces of Moon or Mars vehicles to low-Earth orbit, where they could be assembled prior to beginning their mission.

Why is so much water released at the pad during launch?

  • A sound-suppression water system was installed on the pads at Launch Complex 39 following the Apollo Program to protect the Space Shuttle orbiter and its payloads from damage by acoustical energy reflected from the Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP) during launch.
  • The Space Shuttle is much closer to the surface of the MLP than was the Saturn V rocket, carrying the Apollo spacecraft. Acoustical levels reach their peak when the Space Shuttle is about 300 feet above the platform and cease to be a problem at an altitude of about 1,000 feet. For additional information, please refer to the Web site link below.

How do they track time in space?

  • Astronauts go by Mission Elapsed Time, or MET. In this time frame, the clock starts ticking when the astronauts blast off. Minutes accumulate into days, hours, minutes and seconds that have passed since liftoff. The clock stops when the Space Shuttle’s wheels again touch Earth, and the total MET is tabulated.

What happens to used spacecraft? Where is the Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle?

  • All retired NASA space vehicles belong to the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum. In early human space flight programs such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, the spacecraft underwent detailed post-mission analysis that often yielded important new information on the rigors of traveling in space. Most of these vehicles are displayed for the public at NASA Centers and science museums across the country.
  • The Space Shuttle Enterprise, which was not designed to fly in space, made a series of appearances at air shows in the United States, Europe and Canada before being turned over to the Air and Space Museum. It is now on display in the McDonnell Space Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center

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