The Space Shuttle Discovery completed its final mission at 11:57 AM ET on March 9, 2011. Discovery has flown 39 missions since it was first launched at 12:41 PM on August 30, 1984. Discovery has spent 365 days in space traveling 148,221,665 miles in 5,830 orbits. On its final mission, Discovery was crewed by Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Eric Boe, Steven Lindsey, Michael Barratt, and Steve Bowen
Astronaut John Mike Lounge (b.1946) died of liver cancer on March 1. Lounge flew on three shuttle missions between 1985 and 1990, including the first mission after the Challenger disaster. From 1989-1991, Lounge served as the Chief of the Space Station Support Office. After leaving NASA, he worked for SPACEHAB and in 2002 became Director of Space Shuttle and Space Station Program Development for Boeing.
NASA has cleared Discovery for its final launch on Thursday, February 24 at 4:50 pm. Discovery is the most traveled manned spacecraft in history, having traveled nearly 143 million miles in its 38 missions since its first launch in 1984. This mission will take Discovery to the International Space Station.
The Stardust-NExT probe flew to within 112 miles of Comet Tempel I on February 14, taking a series of photos of the comet. Comet Tempel had previously been visited by a NASA spacecraft in 2005, when Deep Impact collided with the comet. This is the first time a comet has been revisited after a complete orbit. Photos have shown that erosion has changed the face of the comet, but the impact crater left by Deep Impact appears to have partially healed itself.
Mark Kelly, whose wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head during a public meeting on January 8, has confirmed that he will command the final scheduled flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, currently scheduled for an April 19 launch. Kelly has flown three previous shuttle missions and his brother is currently on the ISS.
United Space Alliance has proposed the Commercial Space Transportation Service, which would keep two orbiters in the space shuttle fleet, Atlantis and Endeavour active and flying two missions each year from 2013 through 2017 while the United States gets a new generation of manned launch vehicles ready. NASA has not officially commented on the USA plan and is publicly stating that the current plans to send the three orbiters to museums.
Results from the first four months of observation from the Kepler space observatory have been released indicating the discovery of more than 1200 potential planets, including 165 Jupiter-class planets, 662 Neptune-class planets, 288 superEarth class planets, and 68 Earth-class planets, 54 of which are considered to be in the habitable zone. Kepler has been searching a portion of the sky that includes the constellation Cygnus and Lyra and looked at 156,000 stars during the period covered by the released data.
Waleed Abdalati has been named Chief Scientist at NASA by NASA Administrator Charles Borden. Abdalati will assume his new position on January 3, 2011. Currently the director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Abdalati will serve as the principal adviser to the NASA administrator on agency science programs, strategic planning and the evaluation of related investments. Previously, Abdalati was head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.
The Voyager 1 space probe has entered the Heliosheath, an area where the solar wind drops to zero velocity. The heliosheath is the final region of our solar system and scientists believe that Voyager is within five years of crossing the heliopause, the edge of the solar system, and entering interstellar space. Scientists had previously thought Voyager was preparing to make the jump to interstellar space in 2005, but since the probe is in unknown territory, it is still sending back data which is changing astronomers’ models of the solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager completed its mission to study the Jovian planets in 1989 when it passed Neptune. It is now located about 17.4 billion miles from Earth and is still sending back data.
NASA’s X-37B, an unmanned spacecraft launched via rocket in April, landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base after a seven month long mission that NASA says was used as a test for the spacecraft itself. According to officials, the flight was to test guidance, navigation, control, thermal protection, and autonomous operation in orbit, re-entry, and landing. NASA plans to launch the craft again some time in 2011