National Geographic
Menu

The Space Shuttle’s Last Night Launch

420001main_Alibaruho_02.jpg

Colleague Susan Poulton traded D.C.’s blizzard of 2010 for a weekend in Florida, where she’s blogging the last planned night launch of the U.S. space shuttle. She’ll chronicle the full countdown on our Breaking Orbit blog. To kick off the series (and honor the space program), I’m reposting her first entry here on BlogWild…

We’re in the final stages of the countdown of both STS-130, the final night launch of the space shuttle, and possibly the U.S. manned space program—at least for quite some time.

President Obama’s recent announcement regarding the approved 2011 budget for NASA effectively cancels the next phase of the manned space program for the U.S., focusing instead on technology development and robotic space missions exploring our solar system and beyond.

Covering space shuttle launches has became a hobby for me since I saw my first launch, STS-114, the Return to Flight mission of Discovery and the first space shuttle launch since the Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003. I was hooked. Feeling the rush of the launch shockwave left me breathless (and teary-eyed) and I was determined to return for every launch remaining in the space shuttle program. I’ve kept my word and now find myself at the sad and final five launches of the shuttle program.

As I’ve written before, shuttle launch watching can be a trying game with many scrubs for weather or technical reasons, endless hours waiting to see if the countdown will continue. However, everything is looking quite good for the 4:39 a.m. launch of Endeavour early on Sunday morning with weather predictions improved to an 80% chance for a successful launch.

STS-130 will be delivering the Tranquility node to the International Space Station. The special feature of this node is the cupola…

420021main_Dempsey_05.jpg

… providing a panoramic view of Earth for the space station inhabitants. You may already be familiar with the Tranquility node and not realize it: it was named via votes on the NASA website. The name “Colbert” actually won the polling (fans voted in honor of TV personality Stephen Colbert), however NASA selected Tranquility as the final name. Stephen Colbert instead had the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. (Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill) exercise machine named after him, which launched on STS-128 and will be moved into the cupola so space station residents can work out in full view of the Earth below.

I’ll be posting here throughout the launch, beginning with the 8:00 a.m. ET rotation of the RSS tomorrow morning. (The RSS or Rotating Service Structure protects the shuttle when it is on the launch pad and is “rolled back” to reveal the shuttle 15-20 hours before launch.)

For those of you who were curious what “STS” stands for, it’s quite simple: Space Transportation System.

Follow Susan’s updates from the STS-130 countdown and launch throughout the weekend on National Geographic’s Breaking Orbit blog.

Images courtesy NASA