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Orbiter: Discovery
Mission: STS-133
Payload: Leonardo
Launch: Feb. 24, 2011
Time: 4:53 p.m. EST
Site: Pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center
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11:57 a.m. EST
Site: KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility

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Decommissioning work starts for shuttle Discovery
BY JUSTIN RAY
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: March 28, 2011


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And so it begins. Technicians at the Kennedy Space Center have begun taking apart the shuttle Discovery, the ship now a laboratory specimen for engineering forensics before her future date with a museum.

Inside orbiter hangar No. 2 last week, the shuttle's nose piece containing the control thrusters used to maneuver the spacecraft was removed and taken to the hypergolic maintenance facility for decommissioning.

It's the first visible sign of critical post-flight safing work now underway on the three-decade-old Discovery as she goes into retirement.


Discovery's forward reaction control system (FRCS) is lowered onto a trailer after being removed from the shuttle. Credit: NASA
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The 39th and final space voyage for Discovery launched February 24 to the International Space Station, delivering the Permanent Multipurpose Module to serve as a float-in storage closet and the Express Logistics Carrier No. 4 for holding large spare parts at the orbiting complex. The shuttle flew back to the Florida spaceport for landing March 9.

The so-called "transition and retirement" phase for Discovery should last several months, eventually getting the shuttle into a safe state for public display. Schedules say the orbiter will be ready to ferry atop a 747 carrier jet to her final home early next year.

But between now and then the space shuttle program wants to delve inside the venerable ship and explore engineering questions about hardware that's not been accessible for examination since construction in the early 1980s.

"There's some things on the vehicles, especially Discovery, that we haven't looked at since it was built out in California. Things like actuators. It's very invasive to go in. I had some pretty good debates with the ground operations team about the difficulty of going to get some of these things. But from an engineering standpoint, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go see how a reusable vehicle actually weathered this many cycles, this many times on orbit, this much time in ground processing," said John Shannon, the shuttle program manager.

 
Discovery's nose after the FRCS was removed. Credit: NASA
 
"So we'll go get representative actuators, we're going to get main engine flow liners, things that basically you started with and built the orbiter around."

Discovery's rich history included 39 flights, 148,221,675 miles traveled, 5,830 orbits of Earth and a full year of cumulative time spent in space.

Construction began in August 1979 and the spacecraft was rolled out of the Palmdale factory in October 1983. She became NASA's third operational space shuttle with a maiden voyage in August 1984.

The information gained by the various pieces and parts removed for laboratory study, Shannon says, far outweighs leaving the shuttles in exact flight configuration for their museum resting places.

"That's the next legacy of the shuttle program is to give you a lot of material knowledge, of design knowledge, of how things worked over a long period of time," Shannon said. "To me, it's more important to get that engineering knowledge out of these vehicles than it is to have total accuracy in a museum."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will announce April 12 -- the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch -- which museums get Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis, plus the prototype Enterprise. It's presumed that Discovery's destination is the Smithsonian.

"The vehicles are going to look very much like the vehicles that operated in space. We're going to put on some (different) hardware so that we can save some of the higher value hardware. We're going to safe it so the public isn't exposed to anything dangerous. And we'll remove some things that the public would never see -- whether there's a left inboard elevon actuator or not, we'll put something else in there that will keep the elevons at the right position. And then we'll go off and learn about it," Shannon said.

The shuttle program plans the same sort of lab testing on parts from sisterships Endeavour and Atlantis after their final spaceflights this spring and summer.

"We will do it on all three. Discovery, since it has more flight time, it's a little bit more of interest to us. You know, whenever you get engineering data like that, the bigger the pool of information you can get the better your data is. So we'll do that on all three," Shannon said.


Discovery is towed off the runway after final landing. Credit: NASA TV
 
Another key aspect of the shuttle retirement effort is saving critical hardware for reuse on next-generation vehicles. Removal of Discovery's three main engines and the two orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods on the ship's tail will occur in the coming weeks, and both sets of engines will be preserved by NASA for possible use on future vehicles instead of going with the shuttle to the museum.

"The main engines are an extremely valuable asset and I want to save all of our Block 2 SSMEs that we have. We have a plan to store them in a purged, safe environment along with all the ground systems required to maintain them until we decide what to do with the next program," Shannon said.

"So what we did is we really searched facilities for excess hardware we could build up into some main engines. We've been doing that recently. We'll have 9 engines we'll put into each of the vehicles that are older technology engines, but they're real nozzles that flew, they're real combustion chambers, real pumps. So we'll take out the really good engines that we'd like to save for the next program and put in re-built engines that we kinda scrapped together. That is what will be displayed.

"I'm also trying to find enough funds and enough parts to build some static engines that we can display with those vehicles as well, so people can see how big and how complex they really are.

"I'm also trying to save the OMS engines, the small orbital maneuvering system engines on the back. Same reason. If we can use them in a future program, I think they're very valuable assets. We don't have a lot of spares on those, so those probably are going to be mocked up (for the museum). At least a nozzle, but probably nothing behind it in the OMS pod."

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VIDEO: NARRATED PREVIEW OF UNDOCKING DAY PLAY | HI-DEF

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UPDATED HIGH-DEFINITION VIDEO LISTING:
FLIGHT DAY 9: CREW'S HOME MOVIES HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 7: ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL SPACEWALK HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 7: ROBONAUT MOVED INTO DESTINY LAB HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 7: EXERCISING ON SHUTTLE'S BICYCLE HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 7: SPACESUIT LEAK FOUND AND FIXED HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: PREPS FOR SPACEWALK NO. 2 HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: THE SPACEWALKING TOOLS HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: MODIFYING STATION EQUIPMENT HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: FUN TIME FLOATING IN PMM HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: CREWS ENTER INTO THE MODULE HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: PMM HATCHWAY IS OPENED UP HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: OPENING PASSAGEWAY TO MODULE HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: NEW "PMM" MODULE ATTACHED TO STATION HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 6: BREAKFAST TIME ABOARD THE ORBITER HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 5: TIRED BUT HAPPY SPACEWALKERS HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 5: FLY SPACE STATION'S ROBOT ARM HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 5: CHOREOGRAPHING THE SPACEWALK HI-DEF
FLIGHT DAY 5: SPACEWALKERS GET READY TO LEAVE HI-DEF

VIDEO: FLIGHT DAY 10 HIGHLIGHTS MOVIE PLAY
VIDEO: SATURDAY'S MISSION STATUS BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: SATURDAY MORNING FLIGHT DIRECTOR INTERVIEW PLAY

VIDEO: CREW'S HOME MOVIES FROM FLIGHT DAY 9 PLAY
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VIDEO: CREW'S HOME MOVIES FROM FLIGHT DAY 5 PLAY

VIDEO: FLIGHT DAY 9 HIGHLIGHTS MOVIE PLAY
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VIDEO: EXTERNAL TANK CAMERA: LIFTOFF TO ORBIT PLAY
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VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: VAB ROOF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: PRESS SITE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: PAD PERIMETER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: BEACH TRACKER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: PAD CAMERA 070 PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: PAD CAMERA 071 PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: UCS-23 TRACKER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: PLAYALINDA BEACH PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: PAD FRONT CAMERA PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAY: WEST TOWER CAMERA PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS LEAVE CREW QUARTERS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CREW FINISHES GETTING SUITED UP PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: LOOK BACK AT THE LAUNCH DELAYS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NARRATED REVIEW OF SHUTTLE'S PREPARATIONS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NARRATED REVIEW OF PAYLOADS' PREPARATIONS PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: TIME-LAPSE OF PAD GANTRY ROLLBACK PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH PAD GANTRY ROLLED BACK PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: INSIDE CONTROL ROOM WHEN COUNT STARTED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNIQUE VIEWS OF SHUTTLE ON THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
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VIDEO: DISCOVERY'S COUNTDOWN IS UNDERWAY PLAY
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VIDEO: DISCOVERY RE-EMERGES FROM THE VAB PLAY | HI-DEF
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VIDEO: FRESH FOAM APPLIED TO EXTERNAL TANK PLAY | HI-DEF

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VIDEO: BACKSCATTER INSPECTIONS OF TANK MIDSECTION PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: INSTALLING DOUBLERS OVER STRINGERS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: GASEOUS HYDROGEN VENT ARM RETURNED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: DOUBLERS TO BEEF UP CRACKED BEAMS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: HYDROGEN FITTING IS REINSTALLED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: OPENING UP TANK'S ENTRANCE DOOR PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: GUCP DETACHED AND SEALS REMOVED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: BROKEN FOAM REMOVED FROM THE TANK PLAY | HI-DEF
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VIDEO: DISCOVERY'S LAUNCH DELAYED TO MID-DECEMBER PLAY

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VIDEO: SHUTTLE DISCOVERY CREW BIOGRAPHIES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ISS EXPEDITION 25-26 PREVIEW MOVIE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACE STATION CREW BIOGRAPHIES PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: POST-SCRUB NEWS BRIEFING ON LEAK PLAY
VIDEO: GASEOUS HYDROGEN LEAK SCRUBS LAUNCH PLAY | HI-DEF
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VIDEO: ELECTRICAL ISSUE NO LONGER A CONCERN FOR DISCOVERY PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH POSTPONED BY ELECTRICAL CONCERN PLAY
VIDEO: TUESDAY MORNING'S COUNTDOWN STATUS CHECK PLAY
VIDEO: DISCOVERY'S PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
VIDEO: COUNTDOWN PREVIEW BRIEFING AND WEATHER FORECAST PLAY
VIDEO: ANOTHER 24-HOUR DELAY ORDERED TO FINISH REPAIRS PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH DELAYED 24 HOURS BY LEAK REPAIRS PLAY

VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS ARRIVE FOR LAUNCH PLAY | HI-DEF

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VIDEO: PREVIEW BRIEFING ON MISSION'S SPACEWALKS PLAY
VIDEO: IN-DEPTH BACKGROUND ON ROBONAUT 2 HUMANOID PLAY
VIDEO: THE ASTRONAUTS' PRE-FLIGHT NEWS BRIEFING PLAY

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VIDEO: CREW LEAVES KSC FOR TRIP TO HOUSTON PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS INSPECT THE PAYLOAD BAY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SHUTTLE EVACUATION PRACTICE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS EGRESS SHUTTLE AS SEEN LIVE PLAY
VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS BOARD DISCOVERY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SUN RISES ON LAUNCH PAD 39A PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH DAY REHEARSAL BEGINS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: COMMEMORATIVE WALL SIGNING IN VAB PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CREW BRIEFED ON EMERGENCY PROCEDURES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: IN SHUTTLE TRAINING AIRCRAFT'S COCKPIT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: TEST-DRIVING AN EMERGENCY ARMORED TANK PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH STEVE LINDSEY PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH ERIC BOE PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH AL DREW PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH TIM KOPRA PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH MIKE BARRATT PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE STOTT PLAY

VIDEO: PAYLOADS INSTALLED INTO DISCOVERY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MISSION PAYLOADS ARRIVE AT LAUNCH PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CANISTER HAULING PAYLOADS TURNED UPRIGHT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MODULE HOISTED INTO SHIPPING CANISTER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: WEIGHING NEW SPACE STATION MODULE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: GANTRY PLACED AROUND DISCOVERY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SHUTTLE ATLANTIS REACHES PAD 39A PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CROWDS WATCH DISCOVERY'S FINAL ROLLOUT PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: SHUTTLE HOISTED FOR ATTACHMENT TO TANK PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CRANE ROTATES THE ORBITER VERTICALLY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: DISCOVERY DEPARTS ITS HANGAR PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: TIME-LAPSE SHOWS DISCOVERY ASCENDING IN VAB PLAY
VIDEO: TIME-LAPSE SHOWS THE MOVE TO ASSEMBLY BUILDING PLAY

VIDEO: DISCOVERY'S MAIDEN FLIGHT: FIRST TRIP TO VAB PLAY
VIDEO: DISCOVERY'S MAIDEN FLIGHT: ROLLOUT TO PAD 39A PLAY
VIDEO: DISCOVERY'S MAIDEN FLIGHT: TEST-FIRING ENGINES PLAY
VIDEO: DISCOVERY'S MAIDEN FLIGHT: ASSORTED VIEWS OF FRF PLAY

VIDEO: THE HISTORY OF SHUTTLE DISCOVERY PLAY
VIDEO: THE HISTORY OF SHUTTLE ENDEAVOUR PLAY
VIDEO: THE HISTORY OF SHUTTLE ATLANTIS PLAY

VIDEO: INSPECTION OF THE MISSION PAYLOADS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROBONAUT ARRIVES AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACE STATION'S SPARE THERMAL RADIATOR PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: BLANKETING LEONARDO WITH INSULATION PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: RACK INSERTED INTO LEONARDO FOR LAUNCH PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LEONARDO RETURNS FROM ITS PREVIOUS FLIGHT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: STATION'S SPARE PARTS DEPOT ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: ORBITER'S PAYLOAD BAY CLOSED FOR ROLLOUT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS VISIT THEIR SPACECRAFT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CREW INSPECTS LEONARDO MODULE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: DISCOVERY RECEIVES ITS MAIN ENGINES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FUEL TANK MATED TO SOLID ROCKET BOOSTERS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: HOISTING FUEL TANK INTO CHECKOUT BAY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: EXTERNAL FUEL TANK UNLOADED FROM BARGE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MISSION'S FUEL TANK ARRIVES AT SPACEPORT PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: POST-FLIGHT DESERVICING: OMS POD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: POST-FLIGHT DESERVICING: OBSS BOOM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: POST-FLIGHT DESERVICING: ENGINES PLAY | HI-DEF
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STS-134 Patch

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Anniversary Shuttle Patch

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This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.
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Mercury anniversary

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Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.
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