Preparations begin for final Discovery space shuttle launch

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 By

Space Shuttle Discovery

The upcoming space shuttle launch will be the final flight of the Discovery. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Soon, the second to last NASA space shuttle launch will occur in Florida. The final entry in the shuttle launch schedule for the shuttle Discovery should be crossed off the list on Wednesday at Cape Canaveral. The space shuttle Discovery will ascend into Earth orbit and dock with the International Space Station. After the mission, Discovery will be mothballed and likely placed in the Smithsonian.

Last space shuttle launch for Discovery

On Wednesday, the final space shuttle launch for Discovery will lift off at 3:52 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, according to MSNBC. The space shuttle Discovery and the six astronauts aboard will head to the International Space Station. It is not the final shuttle mission, but it is the final mission for Discovery, the most used shuttle in all of the NASA fleet. Once this launch is wrapped up, there will be only one more NASA launch of a space shuttle. The government has not announced a replacement for the shuttle program, but it  is presumed to be looking into solutions from the private market to find a “space taxi” of sorts to ferry astronauts into orbit.

End of an era

The end of the space shuttle program was ushered in by the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Columbia disintegrated upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere in 2003, which caused then-President George W. Bush to cancel the shuttle program, according to ABC. The intended replacement was the Constellation program, which would reintroduce Apollo-style rockets and capsules, but that was canceled by the Obama administration. The program was cut because it was believed to use old ideas, and since the goal was to revisit the moon, it was just a rehash of the Apollo program. The Hundred Year Starship may be something entirely different, but that is only in the design stage.

Next for NASA

Currently, NASA is coordinating with various companies and contractors to find suitable transportation. One of the contenders is the Falcon series rockets from Space X, a company founded by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk.




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