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The crew of STS-133 has had to cope with the numerous technical issues and delays for their mission, related to both the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) and to a larger extent the cracks that have cropped up on the shuttle’s external tank. Now they have a new issue to contend with – an injured crewmember.
Astronaut Tim Kopra was involved in a bicycle accident over the weekend and apparently broke his hip.
Although NASA has not confirmed the injury, several news agencies have reported the news. More than likely, Kopra will not be able to fly with the rest of his crewmates when Discovery launches on her final mission, currently scheduled to liftoff on Feb. 24th. The accident took place on Jan. 15, leaving little over a month before the scheduled launch.
Kopra, 47, is part of a six member crew that will mark the final time that space shuttle Discovery will head to space. He was scheduled to be the primary spacewalker on the upcoming STS-133 mission, and is a U.S. Army colonel (retired). The spacewalks that NASA astronauts undertake take many months and in some cases years to prepare for.
Preliminary reports say that a backup astronaut has been chosen, but again, NASA has not confirmed the news. NASA does not routinely train backup astronauts for shuttle missions. UPDATE: NASASpaceflight.com is now reporting that astronaut Steven Bowen has been chosen as a replacement, and that the flight of STS-133 will proceed as scheduled.
UPDATE 2: NASA has confirmed Kopra’s injury and has announced that Bowen is the replacement for Kopra. “Tim is doing fine and expects a full recovery, however, he will not be able to support the launch window next month,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “If for some anticipated reason STS-133 slips significantly, it is possible that Tim could rejoin the crew.”
In a press release by NASA, Whitson added that Bowen is an ideal candidate to replace Kopra. “We have complete confidence he’ll contribute to a fully successful STS-133 mission. He has performed five prior spacewalks. That extensive experience, coupled with some adjustments to the spread of duties among the crew, will allow for all mission objectives to be accomplished as originally planned in the current launch window.”
Bowen will begin training this week with the STS-133 crew, which includes Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe, and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott. Bowen also will train to perform the two planned spacewalks of the mission. He will join Alvin Drew to move a failed ammonia pump and perform other external configurations to the station.
STS-133 is scheduled to deliver the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM). Contained within the PMM is the first humanoid robot to fly into space – Robonaut 2 (R2). Discovery will also transport much-needed spare parts to the orbiting laboratory.