Shuttle Discovery Overview and latest

by Chris Bergin

Shuttle Discovery is tasked with STS-114, the Return To Flight (RTF) Mission for NASA’s fleet.

Taking over as the Flagship Orbitor – following the loss of Columbia on STS-107 – Discovery is due to be launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on May 15, although confirmation of that date is yet to be announced, as continued processing work has seen rollout from her Oribitor Processing Facility (OPF) hanger to the Vechile Assembly Building (VAB) for stacking now taking place in the early hours of Tuesday morning (UK time), March 29.

Discovery (OV-103), is the third of NASA’s fleet of reusable, winged spaceships – and arrived at Kennedy Space Center in November 1983.

She was launched on its first mission, flight 41-D, on August 30, 1984, carrying aloft three communications satellites for deployment.

Other Discovery milestones include the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope on mission STS-31 in April 1990, the launching of the Ulysses spacecraft to explore the Sun’s polar regions on mission STS-41 in October of that year and the deployment of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in September 1991.

Since her inaugural flight, Discovery has completed 30 successful missions – more than any other orbiter in NASA’s fleet. Just like all of the orbiters, Discovery has undergone some major modifications over the years. The most recent began in 2002 and was the first carried out at Kennedy Space Centre under she is cared for by the United Space Alliance (USA) team. As part of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) report, Discovery has under-gone over 99 upgrades and 88 special tests ahead of her May 15 Return To Flight mission – the second such mission, following her STS-26 RTF missing in 1988, following the Challenger accident on STS-51L.

During its many successful trips to space, Discovery has carried satellites aloft, ferried modules and crew to the International Space Station, and provided the setting for countless scientific experiments.

Construction Milestones:

January 29, 1979 Contract Award
August 27, 1979 Start long lead fabrication of Crew Module
June 20, 1980 Start fabrication lower fuselage
November 10, 1980 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
December 8, 1980 Start initial system installation aft fuselage
March 2, 1981 Start fabrication/assembly of payload bay doors
October 26, 1981 Start initial system installation, crew module, Downey
January 4, 1982 Start initial system installation upper forward fuselage
March 16, 1982 Midfuselage on dock, Palmdale
March 30, 1982 Elevons on dock, Palmdale
April 30, 1982 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
April 30, 1982 Lower forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
July 16, 1982 Upper forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
August 5, 1982 Vertical stabilizer on dock, Palmdale
September 3, 1982 Start of Final Assembly
October 15, 1982 Body flap on dock, Palmdale
January 11, 1983 Aft fuselage on dock, Palmdale
February 25, 1983 Complete final assembly and closeout installation, Palmdale
February 28, 1983 Start initial subsystems test, power-on, Palmdale
May 13, 1983 Complete initial subsystems testing
July 26, 1983 Complete subsystems testing
August 12, 1983 Completed Final Acceptance
October 16, 1983 Rollout from Palmdale
November 5, 1983 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
November 9, 1983 Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
June 2, 1984 Flight Readiness Firing
August 30, 1984 First Flight (41-D)

Upgrades and Features:

Discovery benefited from lessons learned in the construction and testing of Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger. At rollout, its weight was some 6,870 pounds less than Columbia.

Beginning in the fall of 1995, the orbiter underwent a nine-month Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP) in Palmdale California. The vehicle was outfitted with a 5th set of cryogenic tanks and an external airlock to support missions to the international Space Station. It returned to the Kennedy Space Center, riding piggy-back on a modified Boeing 747, in June 1996.

Following STS-105, Discovery became the first of the orbiter fleet to undergo Orbiter Major Modification (OMM) period at the Kennedy Space Center. Work began in September 2002, and along with the scheduled upgrades, additional safety modifications were added as part of the preparations for Return to Flight on May 15, 2005.

The choice of the name “Discovery” carried on a tradition drawn from some historic, Earth-bound exploring ships of the past. One of these sailing forerunners was the vessel used in the early 1600s by Henry Hudson to explore Hudson Bay and search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Another such ship was used by British explorer James Cook in the 1770s during his voyages in the South Pacific, leading to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. In addition, two British Royal Geographical Society ships have carried the name “Discovery” as they sailed on expeditions to the North Pole and the Antarctic.

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