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Space shuttle Discovery set for Monday launch to the space station

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Space shuttle DiscoveryOne of the most complex and expensive construction projects in history could inch ever closer to completion April 5, when space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to lift off on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The orbiter and its seven-member crew will deliver additional sleeping quarters, exercise equipment and racks for science experiments to the station.

After the 13-day mission, officially designated STS-131, the shuttle program has just three remaining scheduled flights, all to the ISS, before the orbiters are retired. NASA is within range of meeting a timeline laid out in 2004, following the Columbia disaster, that specified the U.S. construction of the ISS be wrapped up and the shuttle retired by the end of 2010. By that time, the U.S. will have spent an estimated $50 billion over more than 15 years on developing the station, according to a NASA estimate cited by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The final planned shuttle launch is currently scheduled for September, but a March 25 report (pdf) from the NASA inspector general concluded that "it will most likely take NASA until early 2011 to complete the last of the four remaining flights." Given NASA’s poor track record in recent decades for delivering projects on time or on budget, however, even an early 2011 phaseout of the shuttle would have to count as a surprisingly good showing.

Discovery‘s crew for STS-131 comprises commander Alan Poindexter, pilot Jim Dutton, and mission specialists Rick Mastracchio, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, Naoko Yamazaki and Clay Anderson. Yamazaki is a member of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut corps; the other six are NASA astronauts.

Photo of Discovery on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida: NASA

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  1. 1. tharriss 10:45 am 04/2/2010

    One question… has any useful science been done from the space station… science that couldn’t have been done in other ways for far less than $50 billion dollars?

    Just curious…

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  2. 2. teesoccermom 3:01 am 04/3/2010

    Medical science has gained a lot from the experiments that have been completed. Also, a lot of knowledge as been acquired about the health of our planet. I feel sure that additional useful knowledge will be acquired. NASA needs to do a better job of explaining the knowledge that has been acquired via the various missions that have been conducted.
    Before making a decision about whether too much is being spent for the Space program, folks need to first be open minded enough to find out what knowledge has been acquired. I would rather $$$$ be spent on the Space program than to pay for the current Middle East conflict.

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  3. 3. teesoccermom 3:08 am 04/3/2010

    If you emailed NASA or Dr. Mae Jemison (Former NASA Astronant), I am sure that this is plenty of useful medical information that has been acquired via the various medical experiments that have been conducted in space.
    (in 0 gravity). Medical science and environmental science has benefitted greatly from the knowledge that has been acquie in the various space missions. I would rather the US spend $$ via NASA’s Space program than to support the current war in the Middle East where we are getting little to nothing for our $$.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Wayne Williamson 6:48 pm 04/3/2010

    tharris…i think its closer to a 150 billion….for some reason i thought it was a trillion;-)

    we better be learning how people react in a zero gee environment…plus other good stuff…

    that being said…this is no way to expand into space…its a baby step…..

    Link to this

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