NASA celebrates successful Discovery launch

Cape Canaveral (FL) – Concerns over a gaseous hydrogen leak and problems with Endeavour’s flow control valves delayed Discovery’s launch by more than a month, but the actually lift off and flight have been flawless so far. The shuttle crew is now on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver the final set of power-generating solar arrays.

Discovery launched at 7:43 PM EDT on Sunday. The shuttle was originally scheduled to lift off on February 12, but previously discovered cracks in Endeavour’s flow control valves and the implications for Discovery delayed the launch to March 11. On March 11, the launch was postponed once again, after a leak in the gaseous hydrogen venting system was detected during fueling.

Over the past few days, technicians rebuilt and replaced seals and other components associated with the system. No leaks were detected during the Sunday’s fueling, NASA said.

Commander Lee Archambault leads the crew of seven to deliver the S6 truss segment and install the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station. The S6 truss will complete the backbone of the station and provide one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six.  Altogether, the four sets of arrays can generate 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to provide power for more than 40 average homes. The new devices delivered to the ISS will be able to provide double the amount of power available for scientific research, NASA said.

Discovery’s crew will also deliver a replacement distillation assembly for the station’s water recycling system, and help the ISS Expedition 18 crew prepare for doubling of the station’s crew size later this summer.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata will become a station crew member Tuesday evening to begin a three-month stay shortly after docking. He will replace Sandra Magnus, who will return to Earth aboard Discovery to end her four-month stay in space. Wakata is scheduled to spend a little more than three months on the orbital complex.

During the 13-day flight, Discovery crew members Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold and Joseph Acaba will rotate assignments on three spacewalks. The first, by Swanson and Arnold next Thursday has them assist with the installation of the 16-ton S6 truss element and its solar arrays onto the end of the station’s starboard truss.