National Geographic

“Go” for Final Launch of Discovery

By Susan Poultonfor Breaking Orbit


As far as space shuttle launches go, it doesn’t get much better than this. Tanking of Space Shuttle Discovery began on time at 7:25 am ET this morning, getting it ready for its final flight scheduled for 4:50pm ET this afternoon. The weather forecast has been upgraded to a 90% favorable chance for launch. The crew woke up around 7am ET this morning and began their launch preparations. They are scheduled to depart the crew quarters for the launch pad at 1:00pm ET.


Space Shuttle Discovery on the launch pad at sunrise back in September after rolling out to the launch pad for the first of several rescheduled launches. —Image Credit: Susan Poulton


Back in September when Discovery rolled out to the pad for its first launch attempt, I was treated to a special sunrise photo shoot at the launch pad with other members of the media. During our return to the press center, our path was blocked by newly poured gravel the school bus we were riding in couldn’t cross over. As a result, we were ferried up and over the launch pad and almost directly underneath the rotating service structure (RSS) next to the shuttle. We begged the bus driver to drive as slow as possible so we could eagerly snap photos out of the tiny bus windows. He paused directly in front of the shuttle long enough for some of us to put our cameras down (just for a moment) and marvel at the flagship shuttle of NASA’s fleet. It was a rare moment of access and a chance to say farewell in person.

Discovery holds a special place for me and today is emotional and bittersweet. She was my first shuttle launch during the summer of 2005 (STS-114 dubbed “Return to Flight” post-Columbia tragedy). It is truly an honor to be here to see her final journey into space.

shuttle-pad-486.jpg—Image Credit: Susan Poulton



—Image Credit: Susan Poulton


—Susan Poulton works for National Geographic Digital Media and is a self-proclaimed space geek. Since graduating from Space Camp in 1987, she’s been fascinated by all things space and can’t resist sharing this passion with others. A veteran of 15 launches (and over 46 launch attempts), she has attempted to see every space shuttle launch since STS-114 in 2005.