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Discovery set to launch this week

HERE IS NASA’S LATEST video update, which—amongst other news—includes details of the last flight of space shuttle Discovery, due for lift-off at 8:50am Sydney time on Friday, February 25 (4:50pm Thursday Feb 24, US EST).

Carried aboard Discovery will be Robonaut 2 (R2), the first humanoid robot in space. Once R2 is unpacked inside the International Space Station—likely several months after it arrives—it will be initially operated inside the Destiny laboratory for operational testing, but over time, both its territory and its applications could expand.

Finally, the video below is the STS-133 mission Flight Readiness Review Briefing. It gives a lot more information about Discovery’s mission and preparations for launch. Be warned though – it is 50 minutes long, so you might need to grab a snack to keep you going.

Adapted from information issued by NASA. Image credit: NASA / Jack Pfaller.

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Shuttle launch scrubbed

Shuttle Discovery on the launch pad at KSC

Shuttle Discovery sits on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Centre. Repairs will be needed to fix a hydrogen leak and insulation problems before launch on November 30.

NASA has postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery to no earlier than 8:05pm Sydney time (4:05am US EST) on November 30.

The delay will allow engineers and technicians time to diagnose and repair a hydrogen gas leak detected while filling the external tank Friday morning. They also will assess a foam crack on the external fuel tank’s liquid oxygen intertank flange, near the point where the nose of Discovery is connected to the tank by a bipod brace. The crack was discovered during de-tanking operations.

The leak was at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, an attachment point between the external tank and a 7-inch pipe that carries gaseous hydrogen safely away from Discovery to the flare stack, where it is burned off.

“We always place safety first,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier. “It is essential we repair this hardware before we fly the mission, and we will take the time to properly understand and fix the failure before we launch.”

The six astronauts for Discovery’s 11-day STS-133 mission will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module to the International Space Station. The PMM was converted from the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo. It can hold microgravity experiments in areas such as fluid physics, materials science, biology, and biotechnology.

Inside the PMM is Robonaut 2, which will become a permanent resident of the station. R2 will be used to test how dexterous robots behave in space.

STS-133 also is carrying critical spare components to the space station and the Express Logistics Carrier 4. ELC 4 is an external platform that holds large equipment. The mission will feature two spacewalks to do maintenance work and install new components.

Commander Steve Lindsey leads the veteran crew, which consists of pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.

STS-133 is the final shuttle mission planned for 2010, Discovery’s 39th and final scheduled flight, and the 35th shuttle mission to the station.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Robot heads for the Station

Robonaut 2 is ready for its history-making launch to the International Space Station on STS-133. Known as R2, the robot will be the first humanoid machine to work in orbit.

With an upper torso, long arms and a suite of cameras and sensors, Robonaut 2 is programmed to help astronauts living on the space station by performing repetitive tasks. It’s hands and fingers are able to operate buttons and switches found inside the space station.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Discovery to launch on last flight

UPDATE: Discovery’s lift-off is now set for 6:04am Sydney time Saturday (Thursday 1904 GMT or 3:04pm US EDT).

As space shuttle Discovery heads to the International Space Station on its final mission, it will be taking with it two key components—the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) and Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4)—which will provide spare parts and storage capacity to the orbiting complex.

Discovery also will deliver Robonaut 2, which will become the first humanoid robot in space.

The 39th flight of NASA’s most flown shuttle is scheduled to last 11 days. The flight is designated Utilisation and Logistics Flight 5 (ULF5), in the assembly sequence of the space station.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Star Wars meets Space Station

Robonaut 2 stretching out one of its arms

Robonaut2 is faster, more dexterous and more technologically advanced than its predecessors and able to use its hands to do work beyond the scope of previous humanoid robots.

  • First humanoid robot in space
  • To be tested aboard the Space Station
  • Has a head, two arms and hands

NASA will launch the first human-like robot to space later this year to become a permanent resident of the International Space Station.

Robonaut 2, or R2, was developed jointly by NASA and General Motors under a co-operative agreement to develop a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, whether they are astronauts in space or workers at GM manufacturing plants on Earth.

The 140kg R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. It will launch on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission planned for September.

Once aboard the station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in weightlessness. R2 will be confined to operations in the station’s Destiny laboratory. However, future enhancements and modifications may allow it to move more freely around the station’s interior or outside the complex.

“This project exemplifies the promise that a future generation of robots can have both in space and on Earth, not as replacements for humans but as companions that can carry out key supporting roles,” said John Olson, director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Integration Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Chris Ihrke, senior project engineer for General Motors, works with Robonaut 2.

Chris Ihrke, senior project engineer for General Motors, works with Robonaut 2.

“The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts. It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today.”

The dexterous robot not only looks like a human but also is designed to work like one. With human-like hands and arms, R2 is able to use the same tools station crewmembers use.

In the future, the greatest benefits of humanoid robots in space may be as assistants or stand-in for astronauts during spacewalks or for tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans.

For now, R2 is still a prototype and does not have adequate protection needed to exist outside the space station in the extreme temperatures of space.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.