Successful Shuttle Launch is One of NASA’s Final Missions

Kait Richmond

The Discovery Space Shuttle launched last week to complete one of the final missions for NASA’s shuttle program. In a pre-dawn liftoff on Apr. 5, seven astronauts departed from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Two days later, they arrived at the International Space Station to drop off thousands of pounds of equipment, including science experiments, an extra sleeping compartment, and a darkroom to improve photography.

In a photo provided by NASA, a time-elapsed photo made in Cape Canaveral, Fla., captures space shuttle Discovery's path to orbit during liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida was at 6:21 a.m. EDT April 5, 2010 on the STS-131 mission. (AP Photo/NASA/Ben Cooper)

The launch happened with only a few minor problems. Pieces of insulating foam flew off the fuel tank, and the main antenna failed after takeoff, but NASA officials said that there were other tools to work around the situation.

Otherwise, the launch was both visually stimulating and record breaking. 15 minutes before liftoff, the space station passed over the launch site. It was across the Atlantic by the 5:21 a.m. launch, but the Discovery could be seen with the naked eye for the first seven minutes. Onlookers said the once-in-a-lifetime sight was like looking at massive, beautiful stars.

Equally exciting is that the shuttle carried three women, and the space station is carrying one. This sets the record for the most women in space at the same time.

The nearly two-week mission will include three spacewalks, led by Rick Mastracchio of Waterbury, CT. According to the Republican American, Mastracchio and the other mission specialists will spend about a total of 20 hours space walking. This is all while being tethered to the space station, which flies through space at close to 18,000 miles per hour.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to do just about everything I wanted to do in space. I’ve been very lucky,” Mastracchio told the Republican American. After traveling through 10.2 million miles of space throughout his career, this trip will be his last.

Just three shuttle missions remain for the United States. NASA is hoping to retire its fleet by the end of September, and no one is sure what will follow for American human spaceflight.

President Obama will visit the Kennedy Space Center on Apr. 15 to host a space conference.

A press release from the White House said that the conference will discuss the new course that the administration is charting for NASA, and “focus on the goals and strategies in this new vision, the next steps, and the new technologies, new jobs, and new industries it will create.”

The International Space Station will operate into 2020 on the Obama plan. When the NASA shuttles retire, the station will rely on help from other countries. The progress and activity of the Discovery Space Shuttle can be followed on NASA’s website.