NASA Terminates Power, Locks Cargo Doors on Retiring Shuttle Discovery

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Space Shuttle Discovery was powered down forever and the payload bay doors were locked tight for the final time on Friday, Dec. 16, by technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Take a good last glimpse inside the retiring Discovery’s payload bay as the clamshell like doors seal off all indigenous US human spaceflight capability for several years at a minimum.

The historic “Power Down” came after both of the 60 foot long cargo bay doors were swung shut this morning for the last time inside the shuttle hanger known as Orbiter Processing Facility-1 (OPF-1) – in the shadow of the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

Workers at KSC are in the final stages of the transition and retirement activities that will soon lead to Discovery departing her Florida launch pad forever on her final voyage. They are converting the orbiter from active duty flight status to display as a nonfunctional and stationary museum piece.

Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander, formally marked the final power down and sealing of Discovery’s payload bay doors at a ceremony in OPF-1 with the skeleton force of remaining shuttle personnel engaged in the decommissioning efforts.

Discovery’s payload bay is glimpsed for the final time as its doors swing shut with the aid of yellow-painted strongbacks, hardware used to support and operate the doors when the shuttle is not in space. Discovery's doors were closed and the vehicle was powered down for the final time. Discovery is being prepared for public display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., in 2012. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Discovery was the Fleet leader and NASA’s oldest orbiter having flown the most missions. All told Discovery soared 39 times to space from her maiden flight in 1984 to her last touchdown on the STS-133 mission in March 2011.

In between, Discovery deployed the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, launched the Ulysses solar probe and numerous other science satellites and Department of Defense surveillance platforms, conducted the first shuttle rendezvous with Russia’s Mir Space Station and delivered key components to the International Space Station including the last habitable module.

Discovery payload bay and doors sealed for History inside Orbiter Processing Facility-1 at KSC. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Discovery flew both ‘return to flight’ missions following the Challenger and Columbia tragedies as well as the second flight of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth.

Discovery has been thoroughly cleansed and cleared of all hazardous materials in preparation for making the vehicle safe for public display at her new and final resting place, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va..

Technicians re-installed the three power generating fuel cells after draining and purging all the toxic materials and fuels from the fuel lines and assemblies. Three replica space shuttle main engines were also installed last week.

The "vehicle powered" sign is momentarily lit as KSC technicians prepare to power down space shuttle Discovery for the last time. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
The "vehicle powered" sign is turned off following the final power down of space shuttle Discovery. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

In 2012, the 100 ton orbiter will be hoisted piggyback atop NASA’s specially modified 747 carrier aircraft. Discovery will take flight for the last time in April and become the center piece at her new home inside the Smithsonian’s spaceflight exhibition in Virginia.

To make way for Discovery, the prototype shuttle Enterprise currently housed at the Smithsonian will be hauled out and flown to New York City for display at the Intrepid, Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Altogether, Discovery spent 365 days in space during the 39 missions, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles during a career spanning 27 years.

There is nothing on the horizon comparable to NASA’s Space Shuttles. Their capabilities will be unmatched for several decades to come.

America is now totally dependent on the Russians for launching US astronauts to space until privately built ‘space taxis’ from firms like SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada are ready in perhaps 4 to 6 years.

Liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission from the Kennedy Space Center on 39th and historic final flight to space. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle Discovery rolling to the Vehicle Assembly Building during summer 2011 as it's being processed for retirement before transport to permanent home at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Virginia. Thrusters, OMS pods and main engines were removed for cleaning of toxic components and fuels. Credit: Ken Kremer

Stripped Down Discovery rolls towards Retirement at Kennedy Space Center

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Space Shuttle Discovery was briefly on public display on Wednesday July 13 as she emerged from the hanger at the Kennedy Space Center where she has been undergoing processing for retirement since her final landing on the STS-133 mission.

It was a rather stark and sad moment because Discovery looked almost naked and downtrodden – and there was no doubt that she would never again fly majestically to space because huge parts of the orbiter were totally absent.

Discovery was stripped bare of her three main engines and orbital maneuvering pods at the rear and she had a giant hole in the front, just behind the nose, that was covered in see through plastic sheeting that formerly housed her now missing forward thrusters. Without these essential components, Discovery cannot move 1 nanometer.

When the Space Shuttle is forcibly retired in about a week, America will have no capability to launch astronauts into space and to the International Space Station for many many years to come.

Discovery was pulled a quarter mile from the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to make room for Space Shuttle Atlantis when she returns next week from the STS-135 mission, according to Stephanie Stilson, the flow manager for Discovery, in an interview with Universe Today.

Stephanie Stilson,NASA KSC flow manager for Discovery. Credit: Ken Kremer

STS-135 is the 135th and final mission of NASA’s 30 year long Space Shuttle Program.

NASA now only has control of two of the three shuttle OPF’s since one OPF has been handed over to an unnamed client, Stilson said.

Stilson is leading the NASA team responsible for safing all three Space Shuttle Orbiters. “We are removing the hypergolic fuel and other toxic residues to prepare the orbiters for display in the museums where they will be permanently housed.”

“The safing work on Discovery should be complete by February 2012,” Stilson told me. “NASA plans to transport Discovery to her permanent home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on April 12, 2012, which coincides with the anniversary of the first shuttle launch on April 12, 1981.”

Discovery Photo Album by Ken Kremer

Discovery emerges from OPF 2 processing hanger. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery exits OPF 2 minus main engines. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery moves from OPF 2 to VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery moves from OPF 2 to VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery on public display on Wednesday July 13. Credit: Ken Kremer
Below Discovery’s wing. Credit: Ken Kremer
Gaping hole in Discovery - minus forward reaction control thruster. Credit: Ken Kremer
Rear view of Discovery beside VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery entering the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery enters the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Viewing Discovery from the 5th Floor of the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery parked on the ground floor of the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer