KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Feb. 24, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Space Shuttle Discovery successfully lifted off for the final time from Kennedy Space Center today on one of just two, and possibly three, remaining missions before the Shuttle Program is retired.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," said Virginia Barnes, United Space Alliance (USA) Chief Executive Officer. "As this historic and remarkable Shuttle program winds down, the level of professionalism and commitment of those who make it happen has not waned one bit; in fact, this team is performing better than ever."
Today's launch begins Discovery's 39th spaceflight, and its 13th mission to the ISS. The orbiter underwent a 137-day processing flow in its hangar at Kennedy Space Center before rolling over to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on September 8 for stacking.
STS-133 is the 51st Shuttle processed by USA, which has had primary responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the fleet since becoming NASA's prime Shuttle contractor in 1996. As part of the ongoing effort to make every mission safer than the last, Discovery's most recent flow included a variety of modifications intended to improve reliability and safety, such as the installation of tougher, stronger tiles, known as "BRI tile", around the external tank doors on the belly of the orbiter.
Following a launch attempt in November, which was postponed because of a hydrogen leak on the external tank, as well as cracks found on the tank, the STS-133 stack rolled back to the VAB, where USA worked with NASA and Lockheed Martin to facilitate repairs and get the Shuttle ready for another launch attempt.
"The exhaustive work done by the entire Shuttle team to thoroughly analyze the tank issues, come up with solutions and turn the vehicle around for a launch in February is a testament to the team's unwavering commitment to safety, and to their tireless dedication," Barnes said.
Today's STS-133 launch occurs as the International Space Station (ISS) moves forward in its second decade of continuous human habitation on the orbiting outpost, having welcomed its first residents on Nov. 2, 2000.
USA, in addition to supporting the Shuttle program, also provides support for the ISS by assisting NASA with mission planning, training and on-orbit support. According to USA's ISS Program Office Liaison Trey Brouwer, the final Shuttle missions are critically important for leaving the station in the best possible configuration for the post-Shuttle period, which currently extends through 2020.
"No vehicle can do what the Shuttle can do, in terms of up mass and down mass, so the teams are working to maximize the remaining Shuttle manifest," Brouwer said, adding, "STS-133, which will be transporting the permanent Multi-purpose Module and Express Logistics Carrier 4, will provide important spare parts and storage capacity to the station."
"These final Shuttle missions will set the stage for another decade of discovery on the ISS, and will allow the station to fulfill its promise as a national laboratory," said Barnes. "This team is looking forward to finishing strong, then applying their unique capabilities in new ways to future human spaceflight endeavors."
About United Space Alliance:
United Space Alliance is a world leader in space operations with extensive experience in all aspects of the field. Headquartered in Houston, USA has more than 6,000 employees working in Texas, Florida and Alabama. Currently, USA is applying its broad range of capabilities to NASA's Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs as well as to space operations customers in the commercial and international space industry sectors.
SOURCE United Space Alliance