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Shuttle launch video

AMAZING VIDEO of NASA’s space shuttle Discovery launching on its final flight, mission STS-133, to the International Space Station.

Video courtesy NASA.

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Mousetronauts to help health studies

Artwork of mouse on a satellite

Sixteen mice are serving aboard space shuttle Discovery during its current mission. They're being used in immune system studies. (Note: this artwork does not represent the actual experiment.)

WHEN SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY roared into orbit for its final mission on February 24, it took with it 16 mice, which are playing an important role in immune system research.

Research has shown that the immune system is compromised during and after spaceflight.

Immunosuppression in space and increased susceptibility to pathogens is not only an obstacle to long-term human space travel…understanding it may also lead to effective preventive measures or treatments for humans on Earth.

Animal Enclosure Module

The Animal Enclosure Module (AEM) is a self-contained rodent habitat that provides its occupants with living space, food, water, ventilation, and lighting.

“We believe a combination of stresses during spaceflight affect the ability of the body to respond to respiratory viral pathogens like those that cause cold and flu even after you’re back on Earth,” said Roberto Garofalo, Principal Investigator of the Mouse Immunology-2 (MI2) experiment and a professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston.

The 16 mice will be studied in order to better understand why the body’s mechanisms to fight off infection are weakened. After return to Earth they will be exposed to a common virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

RSV is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. It is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract illness in infants and children worldwide and is more often being recognised as an important cause of respiratory illness in older adults.

Most people who are otherwise healthy recover from an RSV infection in a couple weeks. But young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, can have severe symptoms that require hospitalisation and treatment.

The goal of the MI2 experiment is to discover what triggers and leads to an increased susceptibility to an infection. These findings can be used to help treat and prevent future astronauts from getting sick, as well as protect people with more vulnerable immune systems here on Earth.

STS-133 is the 25th flight of the unique Animal Enclosure Module (AEM) hardware, which was designed to protect animals from the space environment, provide them with plenty of food and water, keep them healthy, and bring them safely back to Earth. The hardware was developed by NASA Ames Research Centre.

More information: Animal Enclose Module

Adapted from information issued by NASA Space Biosciences. Images courtesy NASA and NASA Space Biosciences.

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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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