With Discovery’s STS-121 mission now officially classed as the “cleanest” ever, the Shuttle program took another step towards approving STS-125, the only flight which will not have the back-up of ISS (International Space Station) safe haven.
The mission, HST-SM04, will be the final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, currently set to use Discovery on a launch date of NET (No Earlier Than) April 11, 2008.
The orbit of the telescope rules out the ‘safe haven’ of the ISS – added to the expected unavailability of a second launch pad for use by a rescue Shuttle, as pad modifications will be underway for the Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV).
However, NASA will have managed to get nine flights under its belt by the time STS-125 is due to launch, with the ‘STS-300’ style rescue mission only on standby for the next two or three missions.
**Click the image to view the camcorder video recording of STS-109’s launch (free to view for forum members)**
STS-125 was recently moved up the manifest from the 10th to 9th flight out of the remaining 17 missions (inclusive of Discovery’s current flight).
STS-121 is proving to be the clean flight that was required to allow a return to regular flight operations for that remaining manifest, ahead of the 2010 retirement of the Shuttle.
The Mission Management Team (MMT) noted that analyzed images from Discovery’s Orbital Boom Sensor System had determined there wasn’t any damage of note on the reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) panels.
‘This is the best cleanest orbiter I’ve ever seen. We’ve looked back at a lot of history and a lot of video and data from that,’ commented Steve Polas, manager of the Orbiter Project Office.
With the success of the mission, some attention can now be focused toward a possible fourth Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.
NASA administrator Mike Griffin has repeatedly said that a decision has not been made regarding the possible Hubble mission. However, that is likely to change by the end of the year – something that wouldn’t of happened if Discovery had suffered a serious foam liberation event during last Tuesday’s ascent.
When asked about how today’s successful spacewalk tasks might play into that decision, shuttle program deputy manager John Shannon was obviously optimistic.
‘I think today was a significant step forward in that decision process because previously we had said we had would like to have the space station as our work platform to go and fix or repair tile or RCC,’ he said.
‘If the results from the tests of the boom hold out from today, it will show we have the ability to put a crew member – without a station there – anywhere on the shuttle to do any kind of repair.’
Any mission would have to be completed soon, as many of Hubble’s crucial gyroscopes have failed, and other parts are in need of replacement.
Hubble was launched on Discovery 1990 and was last serviced in 2002 by the late Columbia.
**INFRARED STS-121 MUSIC VIDEO** – Trust Discovery.
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