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‘Space Shuttle’

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Last Shuttle Flight Jan. 2011

March 26th, 2010

From Florida Today

NASA will probably miss its goal to retire the shuttle fleet this year, with the final launch likely to slip to January 2011, the space agency’s inspector general reported Thursday.

But shuttle managers are hustling to meet the current flight schedule, and they expect to spend up to $54 million on overtime to try to meet the September schedule – far less than the $200 million a month they would need to sustain shuttle operations into 2011, the report found.

Four shuttle flights remain, under a retirement schedule set in 2004 after the Columbia disaster.

NASA officials initially said the final shuttle flight would take place by Sept. 30, 2010, and it remains on the launch schedule for Sept. 16. More recently in budget documents, they said it would take place by the end of 2010.

But in a 32-page report released Thursday, Inspector General Paul Martin said both estimates are unrealistic.

President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget includes $600 million to cover flights through December. Flights beyond that would need additional funding.

“It is the intent of the (space shuttle program) to complete the manifest without any sacrifice to safety or mission success,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations, wrote in a letter responding to Martin’s report.

Originally, NASA’s inspector general had used projections that the final flight might not happen until next March.

“However, given that the last four shuttle flights all launched within the schedule margins, our analysis now predicts that the last of the four remaining shuttle flights will launch in January 2011,” Martin wrote in his report.

After the shuttle’s retirement, NASA plans to ferry people to the International Space Station aboard Russian rockets until the next American rocket is developed. Obama has proposed relying on commercial rockets to reach the space station when they become available.

His budget proposal would cancel NASA’s Constellation program to develop an Ares rocket. But many in Congress want the program to continue.

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Exploration

Shuttle Tech

March 24th, 2010

From Motherboard tv

Watching astronauts repair one of the most complex machines ever built while flying 300 miles above the Earth in the new IMAX film Hubble 3D may be a ‘religious experience’. But the vehicle they took to get up there can sometimes feel as small and ramshackle as an old 18-wheeler.

The soon-to-be-retired Space Shuttle is 30 years old and remarkably relies on an on-board flight computer much less sophisticated than the phone you’re reading this on: yup, the craft’s General Purpose Computer uses just one MB of RAM. It kind of puts your memory problems into perspective, now doesn’t it?

The shuttle’s reliance also goes to show how much humans can do even with old tools, provided they’re reliable. The aging ship – perhaps the most complex machine ever built – is “truly a remarkable piece of hardware,” astronaut (and erstwhile IMAX cameraman) Scott Altman told Motherboard at a recent reception for the film, where he was wearing his blue flight suit while juggling a glass of gold-colored liquid and a mini hamburger.

Besides the fact that the computer just works, there’s at least one benefit of relying on a machine slower than a 386 with a purpose-built operating system: “You never get that blue screen of death!”

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International Space Station

Shuttle Takes on Cargo

March 24th, 2010

From Florida Today

Kennedy Space Center workers today plan to install more than 15 tons of cargo inside shuttle Discovery in preparation for an April 5 launch, a date that could be made official during Friday’s flight readiness review at the spaceport.

Shuttle program managers met Tuesday to discuss results from weekend tests that confirmed the health of helium regulators needed to fire steering jets on Discovery’s right, rear side.

The regulators became more critical after engineers determined a helium tank valve became stuck fully or partially open during the loading of propellants earlier this month.

“The testing over the weekend gave (managers) even more confidence in the health of the regulators, which is the most important factor in that system,” Kyle Herring said. “This is one of the more redundant systems on the entire vehicle.”

The stuck valve wouldn’t prevent a launch or threaten the safety of Discovery’s crew, Herring said, but could cut short a planned 13-day mission to re-supply the International Space Station under failure scenarios considered unlikely.

The valve could only be replaced by rolling Discovery off its launch pad, causing a lengthy mission delay.

Managers will discuss one other special issue during Friday’s readiness review: the performance of ceramic inserts stuck between protective tiles on portions of the orbiter. One came loose near a window during Endeavour’s recent flight.

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