Thursday, February 24, 2011

Discovery's Last Flight

In about four hours the Space Shuttle will launch orbiter Discovery's final flight. Her first flight was August 30, 1984. She's flown 38 missions in the last 27 years. I'd say the American taxpayer has gotten its money's worth out of Discovery

As the Space Shuttle program winds down those of us who are still at work at the Michoud Assembly Facility, where the Shuttle's Fuel Tank (aka "ET") is manufactured, still get excited when there is a launch, even though we've seen over 100 of them. It never, ever gets old.

When you watch a launch and understand what it takes to get that bird into orbit it's hard to put your mind around it. Check out these stats:

a Shuttle must reach speeds of about 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) to remain in orbit. The exact speed depends on the Shuttles orbital altitude, which normally ranges from 190 miles to 330 miles (304 kilometers to 528 kilometers) above sea level, depending on its mission. Each of the two solid rocket boosters on the Shuttle carries more than one million pounds of solid propellant. The Shuttles large external tank is loaded with more than 500,000 gallons of supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which are mixed and burned together to form the fuel for the Shuttles three main rocket engines.

It takes 8 minutes to get from the launch pad into orbit.

To see a launch in person is an experience you never forget. What stands out in my mind is the time it takes for the wall of sound to travel from the launch pad to the viewing area a few miles away.

Here is a slide show with images from 132 shuttle flights in 132 seconds

We've been on a long, exhilarating and heartbreaking journey and I hate to see it end.

What has impressed me the most in working in the Shuttle Program - especially at Michoud - is the carmaraderie. It's almost a family feeling, along with some of the dysfunctions that take place in a family. It's been an incredible experience.

I'm disappointed that there doesn't seem to be any clear direction for the future of America's Space program.

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