Special Star Trek Song Beamed Up To Space Shuttle

William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series, provided a very special message to the crew of space shuttle Discovery during the STS-133 Flight Day 12 wakeup call.

With strains of Alexander Courage’s famous theme song from Star Trek playing, Shatner replaced the original television introduction with, “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

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NASAs Navy tows Discoverys Last Rocket Boosters into Port Canaveral – Photo Album

Freedom Star tows Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) from Discovery’s last llight. NASA’s Solid Rocket Booster Retrieval Ship - Freedom Star - tows one of Discovery’s booster from the Atlantic Ocean into the entrance of Port Canaveral on its journey to Hangar AF at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Seagulls help guide NASA’s Navy into port. Credit: Ken Kremer


As the Space Shuttle program quickly winds down, one of the lesser known facts is that the public can get a free bird’s eye view of the ocean retrieval of the mighty Solid Rocket Boosters which power the orbiters majestic climb to space. All you have to do is stand along the canal of Port Canaveral, Florida as the rockets float by on their journey to a processing hanger at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

And if you own a boat you can sail right along side for the thrilling ride as the boosters are towed by ship from the Atlantic Ocean into the entrance of Port Canaveral. It’s the same route traveled by the humongous cruise ships setting sail for distant ports on Earth.

NASA’s Navy has recovered the twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB’s) used during space shuttle Discovery’s final flight. See my photo album above and below.

The two SRB’s and associated flight hardware are retrieved after they splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean following every shuttle launch by the NASA owed ships named Freedom Star and Liberty Star.

Discovery SRB in tow in the Atlantic Ocean by Freedom Star Retrieval Ship. Credit: Ken Kremer

Freedom Star and Liberty Star are stationed about 10 miles from the impact area at the time of splashdown. The ships then sail to the SRB splashdown point and divers are deployed to attach tow lines, haul in the parachutes used to slow the descent and install dewatering equipment.

Each vessel tows one SRB all the way from the Atlantic Ocean into Port Canaveral and then through the locks to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After the spent segments are decontaminated and cleaned, they will be transported to Utah, where they will be refurbished and stored, if needed.

Discovery SRB in tow past a flock of birds at Atlantic Ocean entrance to Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer

The unique ships were specifically designed and constructed to recover the SRB’s. The SRB’s separate from the orbiter about two minutes after liftoff. They impact in the Atlantic about seven minutes after liftoff and some 100 nautical miles downrange from the launch pad off the Florida coastline.

The STS-133 mission was launched from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 24 on Discovery’s 39th and last space flight. Landing is slated for March 8 at 11:36 a.m. at KSC.

The all veteran six person crew has successfully attached the Leonardo storage module and completed two space walks. Leonardo is packed with the R2 humanoid robot and tons of science gear, spare parts, food and water.

Photo album: Recovery and Retrieval of Solid Rocket Boosters from Space Shuttle Discovery’s final flight to space on STS-133 mission.

Close up of forward segments of SRB in tow minus the nose cap which separates at 2.5 nautical miles altitude and releases a parachute. Lighthouse in the background. Credit: Ken Kremer
Freedom Star - NASA’s Solid Rocket Booster Retrieval Ship. Credit: Ken Kremer
Pleasure boats navigate for birds eye view alongside water retrieval of the shuttles Solid Rocket Boosters in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer
Rear view to SRB Aft Skirt from the Jetty Park Pier at Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer
Onlookers fish from rocky outcrops as SRB’s - which generate 3 million pounds of liftoff thrust - float by on a gorgeous afternoon in sunny Florida. What an incredible sight ! Credit: Ken Kremer
Liberty Star with SRB alongside in hip tow position in Port Canaveral. Frustrum of a forward aft skirt assembly is visible on deck of Liberty Star at left. Credit: Ken Kremer
Close up of Frustrum of a forward aft skirt SRB assembly on deck of Liberty Star in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA’s Freedom Star and Liberty Star Solid Rocket Booster Retrieval Ships
docked in Port Canaveral. Both of NASA’s SRB retrieval ships are pictured here with boosters alongside. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer at tow back of Discovery’s SRB’s by NASA’s Retrieval Ship Freedom Star. Credit: Urijan Poerink

Space Station 3-D by Thierry Legault

The ISS and shuttle Discovery as captured -- and annotated -- by Thierry Legault


Run — don’t walk — to astrophotographer Thierry Legault’s website to see his latest incredible video of the International Space Station and a docked space shuttle Discovery. He sent us a note that he had great “seeing” from Weimar, Germany on Monday evening, where he has set up shop in order to capture the orbiting spacecraft as many times as possible during the STS-133 mission. The detail is stunning, — more detail even than his previous video from last weekend — as evidenced in the annotated image above. Legault has even created a 3-D movie — no special 3-D glasses required. He has instructions on his website of how to cross your eyes and squint to get the 3-D effect. “This method may require a bit of training if you are not used to squinting but it gives a very realistic view,” Legault explained. See the videos and find out how he creates these amazing views on his website.

Unique Perspective: Shuttle Launch as Seen from Airplane, Balloon, and Freefall

This frame grab from a video -- shot by a GoPro Hero Motorsport camera aboard the Robonaut-1 balloon -- shows the shuttle Discovery streaking toward space on its final mission. The shot was taken at 5:05 EST on Feb. 24, 2011 as the balloon was traveling through the troposphere. Credit: Quest for Stars/Challenger Center

I thought I had a great view of space shuttle Discovery’s final launch, seeing it from the Kennedy Space Center press site. But there were a few other people who had a pretty unique perspective on the launch. A passenger on an airplane, Neil Monday, who was flying out of the Orlando, Florida airport, recorded the shuttle launch with his iPhone, above. That is just awesome. Want more unique views of the launch?


The students from Quest For Stars who were attempting to capture an image of Discovery’s launch from a high altitude balloon (see our preview article) were successful and the team has released a couple of images, including the one above. They say they will be releasing the “best of the best” of their images later this week at the Next Generation Suborbital Research conference. They have a great video of their balloon popping, sending their payload into a quick freefall.

Fred Leslie jumps from an aircraft as Discovery lifts off behind him. Image via the Hunstville Times, courtesy of Fred and Kathy Leslie.

Speaking of freefall, former astronaut Fred Leslie and his wife Kathy wanted to do something special to commemorate Discovery’s final launch. They jumped from an aircraft over Deland, Fla., and timed it so they could get a photograph with Discovery taking off in the background. Read more about it in the Huntsville Times.

And of course, if you want to see more launch images, we have a great gallery of the STS-133 launch as seen by our cadre of reporters and photographers who were on hand for Discovery’s historic launch.

Incredible Video of Shuttle Approaching ISS, Taken from Earth

The International Space Station and shuttle Discovery, about 30 minutes before docking. Credit: Theirry Legault.


Award winning photographer Theirry Legault sent us a note about some amazing new video he shot of the space shuttle Discovery getting ready to dock with the space station. Legault took the video on Saturday evening (Feb. 26, 2011) at 18:40 UT from Germany, showing Discovery and the ISS about a hundred meters apart, 30 minutes before docking. The image above is a still frame from the video, which can be seen on Legault’s website here. “It’s sunset on the ISS at the end of the video sequence,” Legault wrote. “The video is accelerated 2.5 times (acquisition at 10 fps, video at 25 fps). The altitude of the ISS is 360 km (200 miles)… and the speed of ISS is 17,000 miles per hour (27,350 kph) and its angular speed at zenith is 1.2° per second.”

Flash is required to see the video. The 900 frames of the sequence has been registered and combined by groups of 10 (processing with Prism and VirtualDub), Legault said. Find out more about Legault’s photography and tracking equipment at this page on his website.

If you recall, Legault has also taken images of the ISS and docked shuttle Endeavour transiting the Sun, and Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope transiting the Sun, as well as many other amazing images shot from Earth.

The detail Legault has captured is incredible, and a joy to see. Check out more on his website.

Discovery Docks at Space Station on Historic Final Voyage with First Human-Robot Crew

Space Shuttle Discovery linked up to the International Space Station (ISS) today, Feb. 26, for her 13th and final time on her historic last mssion to space. Credit: NASA


Space Shuttle Discovery linked up to the International Space Station (ISS) today, Feb. 26, on her historic final voyage and still charting new frontiers by carrying the first ever joint space crew of humans and robots.

The all veteran human crew is comprised of five men and one women including Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott. For the first time in the history of manned spaceflight, the humans are joined by a robotic companion named R2 or Robonaut 2. R2 is the first humanoid robot in space and will become an official member of the ISS crew.
See Discovery Launch, Docking and Robonaut photo album below.

Discovery docked at the ISS at 2:14 p.m. EST at the Harmony node while flying some 220 miles above western Australia. The shuttle arrived after a two day orbital chase that commenced with a picture perfect blast off on Feb. 24 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Shuttle Commander Steve Lindsey manually flew Discovery to join the two ships together. They have a combined mass of over 1.2 million pounds. This was Discovery’s 13th and final docking to the orbiting outpost. Discovery also was the first shuttle to dock to the ISS on the STS-96 mission on May 29, 1999.

After allowing the relative motions between the two ships to dampen out, the vehicles were then hard mated together. Hatches between the spacecraft were opened at 4:16 p.m. EST and the six Shuttle astronauts floated through the docking tunnel and into the station. They were welcomed by the six current residents already living and working aboard the ISS and thereby doubled the ISS human population to 12.

Prior to docking, Discovery executed a spectacular head over heels “back flip” with Commander Lindsey at the controls so that ISS crew members Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman could take hundreds of high resolution photographs of the shuttles critical heat shield tiles.

Over a period of nine minutes, Discovery rotated backward through a full 360 degrees during the dramatic maneuver with Earth as the backdrop.

The fragile thermal protection system (TPS) tiles protect the orbiter from the scorching heat generated during reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere. Specialists on the ground at the Johnson Space Center will pore over the images to look for any signs of tile damage which may have occurred during launch or on orbit.

Discovery’s cargo bay is loaded with a large new pressurized storage room and critical space parts for the space station. The primary goal of the STS-133 mission is to attach the new Permanent Multipurpose Module named “Leonardo” to the ISS which will provide additional living space for the station crews.

R2 is packed inside Leonardo along with science equipment, spare parts, clothing, food and assorted gear. The robot will serve as an assistant to the ISS astronauts and conduct science experiments and maintenance chores.

The twin brother of the R2 Robonaut and their NASA/GM creators at KSC.
Robonaut 2 and the NASA/GM team of scientists and engineers watched the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery and the first joint Human-Robot crew on the STS-133 mission on Feb. 24, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer

See a stunning 360 degree panorama of Robonaut 2 at KSC from nasatech.net at this link

The twin brother of R2 eagerly watched the Feb, 24 blastoff of Discovery and crew live from nearby the famous countdown clock at the Kennedy Space Center.

The 11 day flight includes two spacewalks.

With Discovery safely docked , the ISS is now the biggest it has even been and is currently configured with all vehicles which fly to the station including the newly arrived ATV from Europe, HTV from Japan and Soyuz and Progress spacecraft from Russia.

The ATV itself arrived docked barely 4 hours before Discovery in a critical operation that paved the way for blastoff of the STS-133 mission and reflects the magnitude of the ongoing orbital traffic jam at the ISS.

If all the STS-133 work is successfully accomplished, a Soyuz will undock towards the end of the STS-133 mission and stage a station fly around to capture the ultimate ISS photo op at the biggest it will ever be.

Launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on Feb. 24 at 4:53 p.m.
from launch pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer

Photo Album: Discovery executes dramatic back flip or Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver (RPM) as it approaches and docks at the ISS on Feb. 26, 2011

Discovery launches on 39th and final flight to space on STS-133 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery’s arc to orbit on Feb. 24 with first Human-Robot crew. Credit: Ken Kremer
The six person crew of Space Shuttle Discovery in their orange launch and entry flight suits
wave to large and enthusiastic crowd of space shuttle workers and media spectators before heading to the launch pad in the Astrovan for the STS-133 mission. From left are Mission Specialists Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, Alvin Drew and Steve Bowen; Pilot Eric Boe; and Commander Steve Lindsey. Discovery will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module, packed with supplies and critical spare parts, as well as Robonaut 2 to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer

STS-133 Launch Day Gallery

Discovery just moments after her final liftoff. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.


Here’s a collection of images from the historic final launch of space shuttle Discovery on February 24, 2011.

Discovery's final launch. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
Just after SRB light. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
Discovery just after liftoff. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
Space shuttle Discovery heads to space after lifting off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final flight to the International Space Station on the STS-133 mission. Launch was at 4:53 p.m. EST. Credit: NASA
STS-134 launch. Credit: Nancy Atkinson
STS-133 launch as seen from the KSC press site. Credit: Jason Rhian
NASA management watch the launch of space shuttle Discovery (STS-133) from the firing room at Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.
In Firing Room 4 of the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA's Discovery Flow Director Stephanie Stilson, left, STS-133 Assistant Shuttle Launch Director and lead NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach watch space shuttle Discovery blaze a trail of smoke and steam as it heads toward orbit on the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
Main engine start. Credit: Nancy Atkinson
View from the KSC press site of the STS-133 launch. Credit: Nancy Atkinson
STS-133 launch, just before solid rocket booster separation. Credit: Nancy Atkinson
STS-133 launch. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
A closeup of Discovery in flight. Credit: NASA
The STS-133 crew walks out to head to the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
The STS-133 crew in front of the 'Astro Van' that brings them to the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Astronaut Leland Melvin talks with participants in the NASA Tweetup for STS-133 at KSC before the launch. Credit: Nancy Atkinson
Members of the NASA Tweetup for STS-133 gather for a photo. They finally got to see their mission launch, after waiting nearly four months. Surprisingly, over 100 of the original 150 were able to return on Feb. 24 for the launch. Credit: Nancy Atkinson
The media descends on KSC for the STS-133 launch. Credit: Nancy Atkinson
The twin brother of the R2 Robonaut awaits launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final fligh to space. Credit: Ken Kremer
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Discovery is seen shortly after the rotating service structure was rolled back at Launch Pad 39A. Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller Feb. 23, 2011
Discovery bathed in lights after the RSS was retracted on Feb. 23, 2011. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
The crew of STS-133 stands in front of Discovery on the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

STS-133 Launches on Historic Final Mission for Shuttle Discovery

Discovery launches for one final mission. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.


Overcoming a down-to the-last second problem, space shuttle Discovery made history today, launching on its final mission to orbit. The most-traveled orbiter is carrying a crew of six astronauts and one human-like Robonaut, along with a new permanent storeroom and supplies for the International Space Station. After waiting nearly four months following the detection of potentially dangerous cracks in Discovery’s external tank and a leak in the Orbiter Maneuvering System pod, a problem with a computer for the Air Force Range Safety Officer nearly thwarted the long-anticipated launch. The crew of STS-133 finally launched on their historic mission, with reinforced ribs, or stringers, in the tank’s “intertank” section and a leak-free OMS, and — two seconds before the launch window would have closed — a working computer in the Range. “That was about as last second as you can get,” said spokesman Allard Beutel from Kennedy Space Center.

Discovery set off on her final journey from a picture-perfect warm February day at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, thrilling enormous crowds of onlookers, a huge international press corp and dedicated Tweet-up attendees.

But the four month delay was not without consequences, as original STS-133 crew member Tim Kopra was injured in a bike accident, and Steve Bowen was chosen to replace him. The crew – which includes Commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, and spacewalkers Alvin Drew and Bowen — met at the base of the shuttle before climbing on board in a touching moment, giving each other a group hug before setting off on their mission.

In the payload bay is the Permanent Logistics Module – a glorified closet, with the first human-like robot, affectionately named R2, who will become a permanent crewmember on board the ISS.

STS-133 launch. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Discovery has been flying since Aug. 30, 1984. It’s first mission was 41-D, where astronauts deployed three communications satellites. Discovery has completed 30 successful missions, more than any other orbiter in NASA’s Shuttle fleet. The orbiter has undergone 99 different upgrades and 88 special safety tests – just since 2002. Discovery was named after several ships of exploration in human history.

Paving the way for the launch was today’s successful docking at the ISS of the ATV-2 Johannes Kepler, a European re-supply ship for the ISS. The Automated Transfer Vehicle 2 is the size of a double-decker bus, and carries 7 tons of supplies for the station’s six-person crew.

Here’s our huge gallery of launch images and here’s a video of the launch from NASA TV:

Discovery and Robonaut Unveiled for February 24 Blast Off

The twin brother of the R2 Robonaut awaits launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final fligh to space. Credit: Ken Kremer

[/caption]Space Shuttle Discovery is unveiled for blastoff at 4:50 p.m. today, Feb. 24 from launch Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida . This is roughly the moment when Earth’s rotation carries the launch pad into the plane of the orbit of International Space Station (ISS)

The rotating service structure was retracted on Wednesday night starting around 8 p.m. Feb. 23 over about 25 minutes under a light fog.

In a major milestone, the External Fuel tank has been successfully loaded with 535,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen to power Discovery’s three main engines during the 8 1/2-minute climb into orbit. A dangerous leak of gaseous hydrogen is what caused the launch scrub last Nov. 5.

Pumps will continue to trickle propellants into the tank to replace the small amounts that evaporate during the countdown.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous day here at KSC with clear blue skies, calm winds and a crackling excitement that permeates the air for everyone here for the launch.

Discovery unveiled for Feb 14 launch with 6 astronauts and R2 Robonaut on STS-133 mission.. Credit: Alan Walters, awalterphoto.com

The weather forecast has been upgraded to 90% GO from 80% yesterday which was cloudy and overcast. A few low lying clouds are the only concern.

Large public crowds have gathered at public viewing areas along Florida’s Space Coast. The hotels are full of folks excited to see the historic final launch of Discovery on its 39th and final mission.

The Johannes Kepler ATV is due to dock at the ISS at about 12 noon. A successful docking is an essential prerequisite to clear Discovery for liftoff.

The countdown clock is ticking down towards the final blastoff of Discovery.

The veteran crew of five men and one woman led by Shuttle Commander Steve Lindsey arrived on Sunday on a wave of T-38 jets.

The primary goal of the STS-133 mission is to deliver the “Leonardo” Permanent Multipurpose Module to the ISS. The R2 Robonaut is packed Inside Leonardo along with science equipment, spare parts, clothing food and assorted gear.

The twin brother of R2 is on hand at KSC to watch his brothers launch. He also sports a fancy new set of wheels patterned after the rocker bogie system of NASA’s Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.