Discovery: Lighting Up the Night

Space Shuttle Discovery at 9pm EST, February 23 2011. Via NASA UStream. (Animation J. Major.)

Looking quite regal on Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A, Discovery gets lit up by powerful xenon lamps in this animation made from live video feed images taken on the night before her final launch.

As of this writing the shuttle liftoff is on schedule for 4:50pm EST on Thursday, February 24.

The images above were taken closely following the retraction of the RSS (rotating service structure), seen to Discovery’s left, which began at 8:02 pm and finished 35 minutes later. Shortly thereafter the lights were turned on, illuminating the towering solid booster rockets and attached shuttle.

This will be Discovery’s final flight, taking STS-133 mission crew members to the Space Station to deliver spare parts, an additional experiment and storage module and the Express Logistics Carrier-4, an external platform for holding large equipment. Discovery will also be bringing Robonaut 2 (yes, an R2 droid!), a human-like robot who will become a permanent working member of the ISS. So in a way, while the shuttle program is coming to an end a new era in space exploration – a robotic era – is just beginning! Still, it’s bittersweet to be just that much closer to the end of shuttle flights.

“We’re wrapping up the Space Shuttle Program. Besides the excitement of completing the International Space Station and all the things we do, I hope people get a sense of the history of what the shuttle is and what we’ve done and what’s ending. Because they’ll probably never see anything like it flying again.”

– STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey

The STS-133 crew members are Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Steve Bowen and Nicole Stott. Bowen, by the way, is the first astronaut to fly on consecutive shuttle flights.

Best wishes for a great flight tomorrow to the STS-133 crew! (Watch the launch live on NASA TV here!)

Image: NASA / Ustream. Animation: J. Major.

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