Discovery Set For Final Fling

Space Shuttle Discovery is poised on the launch pad for her final mission, STS-133. Commander Steven Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe are joined by mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steven Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott on an 11 day excursion to the International Space Station delivering a Permanent Logistics module, named Leonardo. Also on the cargo list, an Express Logistics carrier, and a human-like robotic assistant Robonaut 2 - and yes the nickname R2 has been mentioned a couple of thousand times.

You can watch the launch live on NASA TV at 4:50pm EST. Coverage of activities leading up to the launch is already underway.

Discovery awaits on launch pad 39A

So, isn't Leonardo the name of another module?
Well, yes and no. Leonardo is the name of the module, but it has been re-purposed, beginning life as a multi-purpose logistics module that made several trips to the station delivering cargo, to a permanent fixture on the station, providing an additional storage and experimental space. With the retirement of the only vehicle capable of hauling the module into space - the Space Shuttle, the decision was made to convert one of the three Italian built multi-purpose modules to a permanent Space Station module and leave it attached when the delivering Shuttle departs.

Cosmonaut Yuri P. Gidzenko floats inside Leonardo
So, are these the droids they are looking for?
Yes, very funny. Robonaut 2, or "R2" if you like, is the first so called human-like robotic assistant and has "hands" that allow it to perform tasks beyond the scope of previously introduced humanoid robots. R2 is able to lift a 20lb weight with ease, but unlike its more famous Star Wars namesake R2-D2 he is unable to think autonomously and would be completely useless in the swamps of Dagobah. He does however have a twitter account, and will be tweeting about his Shuttle launch experience. Find out more at http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/myexploration/index2.html and follow @AstroRobonaut on twitter.

Robonaut 2, also known as R2

Stay tuned to Spacers for more updates on the launch today.

[update: 1:11pm EST] The vehicle convoy is on its way carrying the crew to the launch pad.

[update: 2:16pm EST] Crew is being strapped into their seats. No issues are currently being worked and the weather looks good for an on-time launch.

[update: 2:41pm EST] Com checks underway.

[update: 3:02pm EST] Hatch is closed. Astronauts are sealed inside the Shuttle. Looking good for on-time launch at 4:50pm EST.

[update: 4:17pm EST] Closeout crew is clear of the launchpad. Discovery is ready for launch. Flight controllers will  be polled for a go/no go shortly.

[update: 4:33pm EST]  Range systems report computer problem. Issue could postpone launch if not resolved.

[update: 4:40pm EST]  Flight controllers polled. Range safety is no-go. Mission managers will give them until T-5:00 before postponing launch.

[update: 4:46pm EST] Holding a T-5:00. Range safety is still no-go.

[update: 4:49pm EST] Range is GO!

[update: 4:54pm EST] Discovery launches!

Images credit: NASA
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Mark Kelly To Command STS-134

Spacers is ecstatic to announce that Commander Mark Kelly has decided, with the full support of his wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, to return as Commander to the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-134, currently scheduled for launch on April 19th 2011.

There is little more to say other than the spirit of exploration stands proud and triumphant today, mournful of the voices of dissent that wallow in its shadow.

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