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NASA sets launch date for Space Shuttle Discovery

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Discovery is being raised to a vertical position and lifted into high bay 3 where it will be joined with its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters on the mobile launcher platform.
Image: NASA/Jack Pfalle.

After almost two months of delay, NASA has set March 11 as the launch date for Space Shuttle Discovery. On February 22, NASA had stated that they indefinitely delayed the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, which was originally scheduled for takeoff on February 12. Launch was then further delayed until February 25 before being delayed indefinitely on February 22. NASA cited the need for additional time to evaluate the shuttle's hydrogen fuel flow control valves.

Liftoff is set for nighttime on Wednesday, March 11, at approximately 9:20 p.m. (EST) from Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The official countdown to launch will commence Sunday, March 8.

"The team came through, worked hard and was efficient. It's time now to step back and think of everything else we need to watch before launch on the 11th. There's no better team than this one and I thank them for putting the right analysis together," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations at NASA.

NASA wanted to perform additional tests on the valves which control the amount of hydrogen fuel pumped into the external tank when the shuttle is taking off before making a decision to launch. When Space Shuttle Endeavour went into space in November 2008, one of the valves broke. NASA fears that if one breaks off on this mission, then it could damage the outside of the shuttle.

The current scheduled mission, STS-119, is set to fly the Integrated Truss Structure segment ("S" for starboard, the right side of the station, and "6" for its place at the very end of the starboard truss) and install the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station. The arrays consist of two 115-foot-long arrays, for a total wing span of 240 feet, including the equipment that connects the two halves and allows them to twist as they track the sun. Altogether, the four sets of arrays can generate 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity – enough to provide power for more than 40 average homes.

Commander Lee Archambault will lead Discovery's crew of seven, along with Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, John Phillips, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata.


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