The third launch attempt was a charm for space shuttle Discovery and her crew. The STS-128 mission is now underway with a successful liftoff one minute before midnight, local time, from Kennedy Space Center. Discovery is carrying the Leonardo supply module to the International Space Station, and tucked away inside is the COLBERT treadmill, along with several refrigerator-sized racks of science equipment, a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment, an air purification system, and other supplies, plus another unusual object packed in Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang’s belongings: a theoretical particle called a neutralino.
As you may have guessed, Fugelsang didn’t bring a real neutralino, but a soft toy version (see the whole collection of particles at Particle Zoo.) Fugelsang is a former CERN physicist and he wanted to take something representing CERN up to space on his mission. He chose the neutralino because it links together astrophysics and particle physics. In particle physics, the neutralino is a hypothetical particle, one of many predicted by supersymmetric theories.
The countdown and launch were textbook, without any hitches or delays. The valve that scrubbed a launch attempt earlier this week behaved normally, and while weather (which forced the first launch scrub) was a concern early during the countdown, the Florida skies eventually cleared allowing for a gorgeous nighttime liftoff. The stunning lead image is courtesy of flyingjenny on Twitter. Click the image for more of her images. Several comments from Twitterers attending the launch said night was turned into day as the shuttle ascended!
The mission is commanded by veteran astronaut Rick “C.J.” Sturckow. With him are pilot Kevin Ford and Mission Specialists Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez, John “Danny” Olivas, and Fugelsang, along with a new crew member for the station, Nicole Stott.
Of course, the treadmill is named after comedian Stephen Colbert, (if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard about this, read about it here) and otherwise is called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill.
Discovery is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Sunday August 30.
Sources: NASA TV, CERN