Space Shuttle Discovery’s Last Rollover to the VAB


Rollover, the name itself is not all that awe-inspiring, the sight however; will take one’s breath away. The Discovery space shuttle emerged from its technological cocoon located in Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) at 7 a.m. EDT on Sept. 9, 2010 and was moved into the expansive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) a few hours later. The short, but slow trek allowed workers, many of whom have spent their entire careers servicing the orbiter, to pose with Discovery as she made this voyage. 

Discovery’s trip to the VAB was delayed a day from Wednesday to Thursday, due to a broken water main. Workers found the break in a pipe located near the VAB and repaired it enough to allow second-shift workers to go to work later in the day. 

“The pipe that broke was 50 years old,” said Allard Beutel, a NASA Public Affairs Officer. “The Kennedy team managed to have a work-around in place in under a day.” 

Rollover is an important milestone on the road to flight. In this case, the occasion was all the more historic as it marked Discovery’s final trip to the VAB for this reason. The orbiter is flanked by workers that have worked to see that the shuttle is prepared for flight. They act as guides ensuring that there is no debris along the short drive that the transport vehicle takes from OPF-3 to the VAB. There were several stops along the way to allow photographs to be taken; marking the last time that Discovery is scheduled to move to the VAB in preparation for flight. 

Once inside the VAB Discovery was connected to a crane that hoisted the 171,000 lb. space glider into the air. From there it is mated to a set of Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) and External Tank (ET) waiting for the orbiter’s arrival. Seeing this massive spacecraft hanging in mid-air alters one’s perceptions about the U.S. space program. It places a powerful spotlight onto the efforts required to put astronauts into orbit. 

Windswept clouds encircle Discovery as the shuttle is moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Approximately two weeks after the shuttle is mated the “full stack” is then ready to head to Launch Complex 39A. This marks the next phase in the path to launch – Rollout. 

Discovery will deliver and install the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide much-needed spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS). This will be the 35th shuttle mission to the space station. The crew of STS-133 consists of Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott. 

Although STS-133 will mark the final time that Discovery is slated to take to the skies there had been talk that she could potentially ride to orbit on STS-135. However, if that mission is approved it is likely Atlantis will be the orbiter selected for that flight. Currently, STS-133 onboard Discovery is scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 1, 2010 at 4:40 p.m. EDT.

9 Replies to “Space Shuttle Discovery’s Last Rollover to the VAB”

  1. I have asked on my website for folks to write and thank the contractors who worked on our Human Space Flight Program for serving our nation. You can find the contact info at Please take 5 minutes and let them know they are appreciated and remembered even if our so called political leaders and the senior NASA administration doesn’t.

  2. Hello Random63,
    We can agree that politicians tend to under-perform – no surprises there, but one selling point of commercial space over a NASA in-house program is that it helps to keep politicians at arms length to the process.
    We should also be able to agree that SpaceX’s first manned flight in 2015, just five or so years from now, is in the ?foreseeable future?.
    Can you agree that this is a actually an international science website having more to do with observation, logic and process and less to do with individual patriotism? Change is the price of progress, in this way all programs come to an end and many of us have already reconciled the Shuttle to a fitting place in history.

  3. HSF doesn’t need an obituary, remember ISS operations have been extended and NASA’s budget has increased.
    The Shuttle termination date was set by the previous NASA administrator (Mike Griffin) to coincide with completion of major construction of the ISS, so all shuttle process workers have had years and years of notice.
    If you want to thank someone, try the families of the 14 astronauts who perished flying this over complicated, over priced and under-performing (average of 4.5 flights per year) piece of 1980s technology.
    Bring on Orbital Sciences Corp and SpaceX (2nd test flight this month or early next) and dramatic reductions in cost.

  4. Bush did set the end of the Shuttle Program, but set up Constellation to replace it. Now after 7 years and $9 Billion dollars later, Obama has effectively canceled our HSF and replaced it with a poorly made PowerPoint.

    SpaceX and Orbital are ready for the big leagues yet. SpaceX has made some great accomplishments, but they have yet to launch a mouse let alone a man into oribit.

    The families of the 14 astronauts have been thanked, taken cared of, and we in the aerospace community have kneeled and morned by their sides. To imply that the contractors who have maintained and launched these wonderful machines (which I had the pleasure to work on) don’t deserve thanks for their hard work and for having over 100 crews of astronauts fly and return safely is uncalled for. You may not like the shuttle, but those vehicles and the people who worked on them have a 30 year legacy that is to be proud of. Without them and the shuttle, you would not have Hubbell, the ISS, etc.

    When the last Space Shuttle flies next year, it will be the last time that you see an American astronaut fly on an American ship for the foreseeable future. If you can’t be nice enough to take a moment and mourn the loss of this wonderful chapter in America’s and human kind’s history when we were not afraid to soar the heavens, then at least be polite towards the ones that do mourn and take pride in their accomplishments.

  5. TerryG,

    As actually working at KSC in the past, I do believe that the Commercial companies will not be able to keep NASA, and therefore the politicians, at arm’s length. Many of my jobs on the shuttle required not only a quality control person looking over my shoulder as I worked, but NASA. SpaceX will find out that NASA will insist on the same thing along with the mountains of paperwork tracking every part from manufacture to installation. That type of complete accountability always drives costs up but the oversight is necessary when so many lives and dollars are at stake. SpaceX has done some wonderful things, for it is no small task to loft a satellite or capsule 150 miles up into orbit, but they have a long ways to go before they can safely launch humans in my humble opinion. I do wish them luck though and hope they can progress to Human Space Flight some day.

    I do agree that this is a international website and but I don’t apologize for the accomplishments of my country and our Human Space Flight Program. I am also not advocating extending the Space Shuttle Program, but advocating that the workers still there deserve some credit and thanks for making this 30 year program an overall success not only for my country, but for the international community. Sending a “job well done” and a “pat on the back” to the workers does not require patriotism or being a citizen of the USA. The Space Shuttle Program has benefitted the international community, the biggest example being the International Space Station.

    With Obama trying to kill the shuttle’s successor, Constellation, our future in HSF is dim after 50 years of accomplishments. I do not want to see the day when our country lost it’s will and nerve to touch the heavens.

    You can see more about SpaceX, Constellation, and the end of the Space Shuttle Program at

    Be safe and well.

  6. @RUF

    Actually she looks like that all the time. Most folks who see her up close for the first time are surprised at how “scuffed” up she looks. It’s just stuff picked up mostly from re-entry. All light surface stuff and doesn’t affect the thermal protection system. Dirty or not, she’s a beautiful ship and I was proud and privileged to work on her.

    Be safe and well

  7. RANDOM63, most posting readers on this site have already thought about this issue and decided their options long time ago. The shuttle program is over now. One day it will be replaced with a more cost effective commercial one.

    Until then, US astronauts can hitch a ride along with other space programs. For the next few years, I would rather see the US Dollar go into science missions anyway.

    Uncle Fred

  8. @Fred, I agree that every one has pretty much chosen a side or position in our future in HSF. What the outcome of that will be is unknown at this time. I did do a comparison between the 4 top leading “plans” being debated in Congress right now and you can find that at my blog.

    The shuttle program is over and we have had about 7 years warning. I am NOT advocating a return to the shuttle. My post about Discovery was meant to honor the people who made them fly, nothing more.

    Commercial is still a long ways from filling in the Space Shuttle’s shoes. I know many here are not fans of HSF and prefer robotic missions, but robots can’t do it alone as humans can’t do it alone either. You need both.

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