Students Will Attempt to Photograph Shuttle Discovery Flight At The Edge of Space

August 2010 Launch site Warner Springs Gliderport is in the middle of this shot from the edge of space. Credit: Quest for Stars


From a Challenger Center press release:

If all goes according to plan, a balloon with a student-oriented payload will photograph Space Shuttle Discovery as it climbs into space from an altitude of 100,000 feet. There will also be live streaming video from the balloon itself during the mission – sent back by two regular smartphones running Google’s Android operating system.

Co-sponsored by Challenger Center for Space Science Education, this mission is one in a series of flights conducted by Quest for Stars, a California-based non-profit educational organization that uses off-the-shelf hardware and a little ingenuity to allow students to place experiments at the edge of space at exceptionally low cost.

Quest for Stars and Challenger Center for Space Science Education have now joined together to promote the use of these low cost delivery systems. This mission will be the first of what is hoped to be many future collaborations.

A helium-filled balloon carrying the “Robonaut-1” payload (not related to the Robonaut-2 that is launching on board Discovery) will be launched from a location in Florida some distance away from Kennedy Space Center. The time and location of launch will be determined by weather conditions. With a currently planned STS-133 launch time of 4:50 p.m. EST, the balloon will be launched between 3:00 – 3:50 p.m. EST so as to be in position for Discovery’s supersonic transit of the stratosphere. If there is a delay in the launch of Discovery, the team is ready to try again – several times – on subsequent days.

The balloon will rise at a rate of 800-1,000 feet per minute to an altitude of approximately 100,000 feet. After accomplishing its mission, the payload will be released and descend by parachute. After the payload descends for 15-30 minutes, a trained recovery team will retrieve the payload and download its data and imagery.

Onboard Robonaut-1 is a HD Camera Phone Satellite (PHONESAT) that will attempt to capture images of Space Shuttle Discovery as it leaves Earth for space. Multiple cameras and an on-board computer system will ensure that Discovery launch images will be captured during its ascent. Some of those photos will include logos for Quest For Stars, STS-133, Challenger Center, and Motorola. In addition, the payload contains a Motorola i290 mobile phone and a Garmin eTrex GPS system that is connected to a ham radio transmitter. The payload is designed to have multiple means of communication for backup purposes.

Live video of mission activities will also be streamed during the mission. This webcast can be watched at,, and at

Live video from the Robonaut-1 itself during flight will be available at

Updates during the mission including live tracking information during ascent and descent can be obtained by following or on Facebook at

See more information and images at

Watch Live-Stream of Shuttle Launch on your PlayStation

Watch the shuttle launch from a PlayStation. Image via the PlayStation Blog.


Get a dose of reality via Sony’s PlayStation gaming system. The final liftoff of space shuttle Discovery on February 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm EST will be the first live streaming event to be offered by PlayStationHome, the social gaming networking service, and provide a unique “social viewing” environment.

“We’re excited about this new way for people to experience the exhilaration of human spaceflight as part of a larger community,” said David Weaver, NASA associate administrator for the Office of Communications. “In addition to the other two shuttle launches planned for April and June, NASA looks forward to sharing more of our endeavors with PlayStation users.”

The event is offered by Sunset Yacht, a premium personal space from LOOT, Sony DADC’s interactive entertainment development team. Users will be able to chat via Bluetooth headsets with others watching the launch – all from inside the PlayStation Home social gaming environment.

In addition to live streamed events, the Sunset Yacht’s NASA TV channel will offer hundreds of videos offering spectacular views of the universe from past and current NASA missions. A gallery of podcasts showcasing several missions including the Mars Science Laboratory and Voyager spacecraft also will be available from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“The launch of the space shuttle Discovery provides a wonderful opportunity to introduce people to the fun of social viewing,” said LOOT Managing Director David Sterling. “Users can share this experience with their friends, regardless of where those friends happen to be in the world.”

More info on the PlayStation Blog.

Shuttle Discovery’s Crack Woes Deepen

A technician begins to remove thermal sensors and foam insulation from space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux


Discovery’s woes deepened this week with NASA engineers finding even more cracks in the orbiter’s external tank. The first crack was noted shortly after a leak was discovered on the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) Nov. 5. After the first crack was found, technicians found a second and then a third. NASA found the crack on support beams dubbed ‘stringers’ around the intertank region of the tank. They applied what is known in the business as a doubler, a section of metal that is twice as thick as the original – this is done to strengthen the affected area.

On Dec. 17, a tanking test was conducted on the tank. Some 89 instruments were attached to the outside to monitor the tank as it was filled with super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen. The external tank can shrink by as much as an inch when these extremely cold liquids enter the tank. As one might imagine, this creates great stress on the tank, as such mission managers had the orbiter rolled back into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for X-Ray scans and other tests.

These tests are considered to be ‘non-destructive’ but NASA is not able to conduct them out at launch complex 39A. Testing started as soon as the full stack consisting of the orbiter, ET and twin solid rocket boosters were in the VAB.

It is unknown when Discovery will be back at LC39A for her final mission, STS-133. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

However, once these scans were completed – NASA had more problems, more cracks were found. Four cracks were found hiding beneath the foam on the side of the ET that faces away from Discovery. Mission managers will now weigh whether-or-not they will go ahead with repairing the damaged section of the ET. They are scheduled to make a final determination on Monday, Jan. 3. If they elect to do so, the repairs will be conducted inside of the VAB and not out at the pad.

STS-133 is a resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS). When it does launch, it will carry the modified Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) to the orbiting outpost. Contained within that is the first human-like robot to fly into space – Robonaut-2 (R2). Currently, Discovery is scheduled to launch no-earlier-than Feb. 3 at 1:37 EDT. This mission will mark the 39th time that Discovery has taken to the Florida skies and will be the final scheduled mission in the orbiter’s career.

Discovery's final crew may have to wait a while longer before they can start their mission. Image Credit: NASA

Shuttle Launch Could Be Delayed Into Next Year

Shuttle Discovery on the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.


While NASA managers have targeted space shuttle Discovery’s launch for no earlier than Dec. 17, they also said they don’t want to rush to any conclusions on the cracks found on the shuttle’s external tank. Therefore, shuttle program manager John Shannon said that if the team doesn’t completely understand the issues, they won’t launch until they do. That might mean mid-December, or it might mean they wait for the next launch window, which is in February of 2011 — or even later.

“It’s a complex problem,” said Shannon. “We really need to understand our risk. Clearly we’re not ready for the December 3 -7 window that’s coming up.”

“We are methodically looking at the data and we’ll let data the drive where we’re heading, drive when we launch,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Operations, speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Engineering evaluations are ongoing of the four cracks on found on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets called stringers on the shuttle’s external tank, and Shannon said they still need more analysis until they understand everything. The only previous time cracks like this have been seen are during the assembly process, or if the tank has been mishandled during assembly – cracks like this have never been seen at the launchpad before.

“We have worked hard to understand the exposure, and we want to understand everything,” Shannon said. “We’re looking at the fault tree from assembly, to how it gets foamed, to transport, to how it gets to KSC – every single part of that tank’s life is part of our fault tree analysis.”

It appears the biggest worry is not that the tank would fall apart during the stresses of launch, but that foam would be dislodged from the tank, which could impact the shuttle during launch. Foam from the ET is what damaged space shuttle Columbia, and caused it to disintegrate during reentry in 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board.

If the teams feel their analysis is complete and they have the flight rationale to fly, the earliest launch date would be Friday, Dec. 17 at 8:51:53 pm EST.

A Soyuz is scheduled to dock at the space station at 3 pm EST that day, carrying three new crew members to the ISS.

No launch dates are available in January 2011 because of constraints with the orbit of the space station and conflicts with other unmanned cargo launches. The launch window in February opens on the 27th and closes March 6. Another window, Feb. 3 -10 could be available if the Japanese cargo ship, scheduled to arrive in late January, can be moved to another port on the space station.

We’ll keep you posted.

Structural Crack Found on Shuttle Tank

The chances of space shuttle Discovery launching on the STS-133 mission in 2010 could be in jeopardy. Cracked foam on the shuttle’s external tank was removed early Wednesday morning and underneath engineers found a structural crack on the tank itself. The serpentine crack is about 22 cm (9 inches) long and is located on a structural rib or “stringer.” Cracks like this have appeared on other tanks and were fixed at the production facility in New Orleans. But this type of repair has never been attempted at the launch pad.
Continue reading “Structural Crack Found on Shuttle Tank”

Stubborn Shuttle Discovery Refuses to Launch on Final Mission

Shuttle Discovery still on the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.


UPDATE: The launch has now been delayed until Nov. 30, as a crack was found in the foam on Discovery’s external tank after the fuel was offloaded this morning. Engineers posting on Twitter said the hydrogen leak this morning may have been a lucky break, as the crack had ice underneath and may have easily come off during launch. The crack was not seen previously.

It seems as through space shuttle Discovery keeps coming up with excuses to delay the launch of her final mission to space, and the launch pad facilities and weather are conspiring along with her. Originally scheduled to launch on Nov. 1, this latest delay comes from a hydrogen leak in a vent arm attached to the shuttle’s external tank. The work required will push back any further launch attempt until at least Monday, Nov. 8. That is the last day available in the current launch window, and if it doesn’t launch then the window closes until Nov. 30, due to unfavorable sun angles for when the shuttle would be docked to ISS.

This is not the first time a leak has occurred in the vent arm, but this time the leak was “substantial” said Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

“The signature of the leak is similar to what we’ve seen in the past when we’ve had leaks there, although the magnitude was higher this time and it occurred earlier in our tanking process,” he said.

Discovery’s 11-day mission to the International Space Station will bring a new storage module and the first humanoid robot, Robonaut 2, or R2 to the station. The Nov. 8 launch time is now scheduled for 12:53 Eastern STANDARD Time (17:53 UT).

Previous delays have stemmed from leaks in different systems, an electrical glitch and rainy, windy weather.

The launch scrubs have disappointed participants of the launch Tweet-up, where NASA allows Twitterers a chance to view a launch from Kennedy Space Center. While some of the participants are waiting out the delays, most have had to return home. This marks the first time there has been a launch delay when NASA has held a Tweet-up for a shuttle liftoff.

If you are needing to see a launch, try keeping an eye on a Delta II rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with the COSMO Earth observing satellite. This rocket, too has had its share of delays, but is now slated for launch on Friday, Nov. 5 at 10:20 pm EDT (7:20 pm PDT).

Former Shuttle Astronaut Reflects on Discovery’s Final Mission

Discovery returns to Earth with the crew of STS-29. Robert Springer was a member of this crew and recently sat down and gave his thoughts about the end of the shuttle era. Photo Credit: NASA


As he looks back over the years, former shuttle astronaut Robert Springer remembers the shuttle era very clearly. He flew on Atlantis – and Discovery. With the final flight of Discovery only a few days away, he took time out of his busy schedule to reminisce about his time ‘riding rockets.’

“Great memories,” Springer said, “I’m really proud of the opportunity I had and the chance to serve my country, and so it was was special — very special.”

Springer received his aviator’s wings in 1966 with the United States Marine Corps. He flew F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam where he also served as an advisor to the South Korean Marine Corps. Springer would fly some 300 combat missions in F-4s and an additional 250 combat missions in O-1 Bird Dogs, UH-1 “Hueys.” Springer would eventually attend navy Fighter Weapons School – known more commonly as “TOPGUN.” Springer has been awarded numerous awards including the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star.

He was selected to become an astronaut in 1980, completing training one a year later in 1981. He served on the support crew for STS-3 working on various aspects of the “Canadarm” remote manipulator system. Between 1984 and 1985 he served as CAPCOM on seven shuttle flights. After waiting nine years he flew his first mission in 1989 aboard Discovery on STS-29.

Crew portrait with Springer in the middle of the top row. Image Credit: NASA

STS-29 was a highly-successful mission that deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) and conducted numerous experiments while on orbit. A year later in 1990 Springer again left Earth for the black sky on STS-38. This mission was aboard Atlantis and was a classified Department of Defense mission. It was the first mission to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida since 1985. Of the two missions, Springer remembers STS-38 with a bit of a smile.

“My first flight on STS-29 was shortly after the first Return-to-Flight in 1988 and while the media attention was nice, once is enough,” Springer said. “So for STS-38 we were completely cut off from the press – it was fantastic! I just felt kind of bad for the new guys on that flight as they missed that aspect of a shuttle mission.”

When speaking with Springer, you can see the smile fade somewhat when the subject turns to the final flight of Discovery, arguably the most historic of the surviving orbiters.

“It’s going to be a little tough, realizing that this will be the last time that Discovery will be going into space,” Springer said while looking out at Launch Complex 39a. “You know that someday that the program is going to come to an end, but to actually have that take place and come to fruition, while exciting to see it launch – it will be sad.”

He fondly recollected his experience on board Discovery as one of the most amazing experiences in a career that has witnessed some of the most powerful experiences in American history.

“The flight overall was fantastic, it was so incredibly intense,” Springer said with a smile. “We were one of the first flights after the Challenger accident. While we normally plan for a 16 hour day during missions, we were so busy it ended up being an 18 hour day. Whenever we had a free minute we would hog the windows and stare out into space until you couldn’t fight it anymore and you’d drift off to sleep – and around the shuttle cabin.”

STS-131, the Mission in Pictures

Amazing image from Soichi Noguchi of the shuttle. "Midnight running! Galaxy Express 131, Discovery," he Tweeted. Credit: Soichi Noguchi


Space shuttle Discovery’s landing was delayed a day because of uncooperative weather at Kennedy Space Center and the crew of STS-131 will try again on Tuesday to land. But in the meantime the delay provides a great opportunity to look back at the very successful mission with a set of amazing pictures from space. This beautiful image, top, shows the station’s robotic Canadarm2 grappling the Leonardo Multi-purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) from the payload bay of the docked Discovery for relocation to a port on the Harmony node of the International Space Station. The bright sun and Earth’s horizon provide the backdrop for the scene, while the Canadian-built Dextre robot looks on. Enjoy a gallery of images, below.

Clay Anderson during an EVA. Credit: NASA

Clay works outside the ISS during STS-131’s first EVA. During the six-hour, 27-minute spacewalk, Anderson and Rick Mastracchio (visible in the reflection of Anderson’s helmet visor), mission specialist, helped move a new 1,700-pound ammonia tank from space shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay to a temporary parking place on the station, retrieved an experiment from the Japanese Kibo Laboratory exposed facility and replaced a Rate Gyro Assembly on one of the truss segments.

Discovery during the rendezvous and docking with the ISS on April 7, 2010. Credit: NASA

Discovery and the International Space Station are in the midst of their rendezvous and docking activities in this image photographed by an Expedition 23 crew member aboard the ISS. Part of a docked Russian spacecraft can be seen in the foreground.

Rick Mastracchio during the first EVA of the mission. Credit: NASA
Amazing image from Soichi Noguchi of the shuttle. He tweeted: Midnight running! Galaxy Express 131, Discovery. Credit: Soichi Noguchi

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi has taken some of the most incredible images while on the ISS. Here’s one more awesome shot of Discovery while docked to the ISS during the STS-131 mission.

Naoko Yamazaki is pictured in a window of the Cupola. Credit: NASA
Commander Alan Poindexter and Pilot Jim Dutton in Discovery's cockpit. Credit: NASA

Compare this image, above, of Commander Alan Poindexter and Pilot Jim Dutton in the “real” shuttle cockpit, to below, the shuttle simulator.

Commander Alan Poindexter and pilot Jim Dutton in shuttle simulator. Credit: NASA
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronauts Soichi Noguchi, Expedition 23 flight engineer; and Naoko Yamazaki (right), STS-131 mission specialist; along NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson in the Destiny Lab. Credit: NASA.

This mission brought together two Japanese astronauts Soichi Noguchi, Expedition 23 flight engineer; and Naoko Yamazaki (right), STS-131 mission specialist; along NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson,

A unique view of the ISS. Credit: NASA

A unique view of a part of the ISS, backdropped by the blackness of space and Earth’s horizon. Visible are the Japanese Kibo complex of and a set of solar arrays. This image was photographed by an STS-131 crew member while space shuttle Discovery was docked with the station.

Clay Anderson with a ball of water. Credit: NASA

The microgravity environment of space provides a great place to play — experimenting with a water is always fun and it likely happens every mission!

Four women in space at once for the first time. Credit: NASA

For the first time, four women were in space together during the STS-131 mission, with three from the shuttle crew and one from the ISS. Pictured clockwise (from the lower right) are NASA astronauts Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, both STS-131 mission specialists; and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 23 flight engineer; along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, STS-131 mission specialist.

The STS-131 crew in the ISS's Cupola. Credit: NASA

Love this image of the STS-131 crew in the Cupola. Pictured counter-clockwise (from top left) are NASA astronauts Alan Poindexter, commander; James P. Dutton Jr., pilot; Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Rick Mastracchio, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, NASA astronauts Clayton Anderson and Stephanie Wilson.

Time-lapse image of the launch of STS-131. Credit: NASA

Back to where the mission started, with a great time-lapse image of Discovery’s launch for STS-131. For more great launch images, see our launch gallery from Universe Today photographer Alan Walters and writer Ken Kremer, who were both at the launch.

Will Discovery Be ‘Go for Launch’ or Forced to Roll Back?

A wide angle view of Discovery and the payload canister on the rolled back Rotating Service Structure. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today


Over the weekend, NASA engineers will conduct additional tests to determine if Discovery can launch “as is” or have to be rolled back for repairs — which would mean a three-month delay for the STS-131 mission. Helium regulator assemblies downstream from a failed isolation valve in the shuttle’s right rear maneuvering engine pod must work perfectly to provide a system redundancy that would justify proceeding with the flight. If they don’t, then the regulator assemblies and the valve would need to be repaired or replaced, and neither can be done at the launchpad – meaning Discovery would have to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, de-mated from the SRBs and external tank, and sent to the Orbiter Processing Facility for repairs. But if the regulators check out, and no other problems arise, mission managers could give the ‘go’ to launch Discovery as is on April 5, 2010.

Today on the launchpad, said NASA Payload Manager Joe Delai was optimistic about the tests. “It’s looking good,” he said. “They will do a test on Saturday to make sure the two valves farther down the line work, and if that looks good, we’ll put the payload on board.”

Close-up of Discovery. Image Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today

Engineers will evaluate the data and discuss options at a readiness review Tuesday morning.

Nancy on the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.

In anticipation of a good report on the regulator tests, the canister carrying the payload for Discovery’s STS-131 mission to the International Space Station was brought to Launch Pad 39A early on March 19. Later, reporters were allowed an unusual visit right on the pad and close to Discovery to see the work in progress and talk with Delai and Boeing payload flow manager, Mike Kinslow.

Enjoy these great close-up images by Universe Today photographer Alan Walters of Discovery on the on launchpad, with the Rotating Service Structure rolled back, allowing a view of the payload canister.

Discovery ready to receive the payload for the STS-131 mission. Image Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.

Discovery on the pad. Note the bird soaring overhead. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.
On Feb. 18, 2010, workers in the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC finished packing the Leonardo module for the STS-131 mission. Credit: Nancy Atkinson

STS-131 will be a three-spacewalk space station assembly and resupply mission. The Leonard Multi-purpose Logistics Module that will be installed in Discovery’s payload bay will bring up 5,000 kg (11,000 lbs) of food, water, clothes, parts, science experiments, supply units for the oxygen generation system, and five science utilization racks.

New crew quarters for the ISS.

Other very interesting additions to the ISS on this flight include: , the fourth crew sleep station (CQ4)– which is a phone booth-like small crew quarters, the MARES (Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System) – which Delai compared to a Bowflex for the ISS crew, a new Minus Eighty-degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) which will be used to support science experiments, and a “dark room” for photography called WORF – Window Observational Research Facility, allowing for better images to be taken from the observation window in the US lab Destiny.