For NASA, this was a week of launches and lack of launches. The space shuttle Discovery successfully blasted off yesterday on its final mission, but NASA's climate-watching Glory satellite, which was scheduled to launch on Wednesday, is still stuck on the ground. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPkJ8ugK3_0 With an estimated 40,000 viewers at the Kennedy Space Center, Discovery launched at 4:53:24 p.m. ET on Thursday. Its crew of six is bound for the International Space Station, after four months of delay due to fuel tank repairs.
"Discovery now making one last reach for the stars," the Mission Control commentator said once the shuttle cleared the launch tower. [CBS News]
Also on board is the first ever space-bound humanoid robot: Robonaut 2, or R2. This robot resembles a human from the waist up, and may eventually take on tedious chores and complete station repairs that are too dangerous for humans. At it entered space the robot tweeted (via its earthly handlers): "I'm in space! HELLO UNIVERSE!!!"
Discovery will reach the space station Saturday, delivering a small chamber full of supplies and an experimental humanoid robot. "Look forward to having company here on ISS in a couple days," station commander Scott Kelly said in a Twitter message. [CBS News]
All told, this space shuttle will have clocked 143 million miles before it's placed in a museum; its first flight was in 1984. It also holds the distinction of carrying the Hubble Space Telescope into space in 1990. But while Discovery is blazing through space, NASA's Glory satellite is still on the launch pad.
The Glory probe was due to lift off Feb. 23 from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a Taurus XL rocket, but a computer glitch on the booster halted that attempt. The launch was originally pushed back a day, but now NASA is standing down to let engineers troubleshoot the malfunction before setting a new launch date. [Space.com]
NASA currently thinks that this satellite, which is meant to study Earth's atmosphere, might be ready for launch in mid-March.
"The Glory spacecraft is doing fine," reported Bryan Fafaul, Glory project manager from NASA's Goddard Space Flight in Greenbelt, Md. "We are continuing to slow charge the battery until we have a new launch date." [Space.com]
Related Content: 80beats: NASA’s Climate-Watching “Glory” Satellite Launches This Week 80beats: The Robotic Right Stuff: What It Takes to Become the First Robot Astronaut 80beats: A New Crew Member for the Space Station: The "Robonaut 2" Bad Astronomy: NASA's last flight of Discovery Bad Astronomy: Discovery's last voyage is go for February 24