Sunday, February 27, 2011

STS-133 Discovery's Final Voyage

On February 24, 2011 the space shuttle Discovery launched into space for the last time. Over its lifespan, Discovery has accumulated the most frequent space flyer miles of any spacecraft in human history and will be retired upon its return.

In a too infrequent celebration of one of humanity's greatest achievements and displays of cooperation toward a mutual goal, STS-133 (Space Transportation System), 133rd space shuttle flight, successfully launched six crew members and payload into space.

The six NASA astronauts are Steve Lindsey, Eric Boe, Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.

Discovery's final mission is to carry six crew members and deliver its payload to and from the ISS (International Space Station).

Along with its precious human cargo, Discovery's payload also includes the first dexterous humanoid robot in space, Robonaut 2, aka R2.

R2 is still a prototype, which will remain on the ISS to be tested and upgraded.  The goal is that it will assist with simple repetitive tasks and eventually perform tasks that are too difficult or dangerous for humans.

R2 preparing for its first space mission
R2's "head" contains 5 cameras and its torso houses its "brain".  A backpack is used as the robot's power conversion system that allows it to plug into an energy source or carry batteries.

In the future, the plan is that R2 will have greater dexterity at manipulating EVA tools than a suited astronaut and that it will be used to aid its human colleagues during spacewalks.

For a good overview of Discovery's past and present missions:

For more information on NASA's 2011 launch schedule link here.

Welcome back to space, Discovery. Have a successful mission and a safe flight home.


  1. I saw that on the news. I found it very interesting.

    Humanoid Robots in space??... Hello Skynet! Yikes! LOL...

  2. The end of an era indeed. If you fancy owning a bit of history...


  3. I prefer R2D2 - I always sympathize with the stout.

  4. It's kinda sad how these things have become "ho-hum." I remember all the hoopla that surrounded space launches, especially when we landed on the moon.
    But, I have to wonder about R2. How do you think it would do on "Jeopardy?"

  5. A very historical event. Sadly, no one on the crew is named David. Imagine the looks on their faces when they were leaving & R2 says, "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave? I'm afraid, Dave"

  6. The poster looks like a movie poster. Like the astronauts should be walking in slow-mo toward the camera. Which leads me to another thought. Do NASA scientists sit around and think up ways to make science fiction (like Star Wars and Star Trek) into science fact? Either that, or the NASA folks have a wicked sense of humor. R2? When will the second development of Robonaut 2 be produced? And will it be called Robonaut 2, Development 2?

  7. I used to live in Cocoa Beach near the space center. I have been thinking about going back to watch the final shuttle launch but of course it is tricky as you never know if it will meet the launch window and if they will then commission new missions for political reasons.

  8. Sprite, cool and scary at the same time.

  9. Jono, yeah I'm aware of that. Discovery will probably end up in the National Air and Space museum after some safing.

  10. Sarah, :), I know, love the little guy.

  11. Al, yeah, who wants to watch some ancient space craft, when we can watch Snooki launch herself into stardom?
    R2 would probably press the button just to make something light up.

  12. Gaelic Wife, clever.
    Scientists have a great sense of humor, even if they don't know it themselves. A lot of us have started out with a kindergarten degree in science fiction.:)

  13. Laoch, a lot of got something in my eye in that crowd.
    Politics pervades everything.

  14. Vinny, David "didn't make the cut", no one has figured out why...

    Bloody spelling errors, why can't I go back to add some letters rather than delete the whole thing?!?

  15. What Vinny said!
    Also, I want one. I want to send it on missions to my workplace so I can stay home and read blogs.

  16. dbs, you need a clone.
    I weally, weally want one too.:)

  17. That robot is baller! I want a robot that does all of my repetitive tasks... I'd never do laundry again.

  18. Paulsifer, R2 is too cool. :)
    He'll have to come with the three laws of robotics already installed though.

  19. Haha, the three laws... which must eventually be broken before they kill us all. :)

  20. Paulsifer, maybe it's better if we don't make them too smart :)

  21. As the sketchy news I mostly avoid didn't mention it, this is the first I knew of the robot. It will be interesting to see what it can and cannot do...just recently watched ALIEN and two of the sequels and one has to keep an eye on those androids...can you ever be sure?

    How did space travel become ho-hum? Never mind, I know the answer. But that doesn't make it right. Even if politics extend the space program, won't the shuttles still need to be replaced? Or will they just tighten the bolts and hope for the best? And what are the three laws of robotics or am I the only one who doesn't know?

  22. Marylinn, you just created another post idea. Thank you.

    The question of what makes us human is one that science fiction frequently explores.

    If our population growth continues to explode, than space is the only solution. Discovery was built to complete more flights than she had a chance to.

    The three laws of robotics were proposed by the visionary Isaac Asimov, one of the most prolific scifi writers, (see collection of short stories, "I, Robot"), needed to ensure that robots would behave:
    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

  23. Thank you, A-C, for such a clear, complete answer. If I ever venture into sci-fi, this is important to know (I wonder how often writers have chosen to ignore the rules?)

  24. Marylinn, the wonderful aspect of this genre is: there are no rules. :)


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