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Shuttle Mission STS-119, Carrying Two Teachers, Will Not Launch As Planned

February 21st, 2009. By Dave Oei. 4,241 views.
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Discovery on STS-119 at the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Photo courtesy of NASA.

Discovery at the Vehicle Assembly Building in January 2009. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The again-delayed shuttle mission STS-119 is supposed to be special for a number of reasons.  First, three of the would-be astronauts are first-timers, and of those two are former educators.  Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold were both former high school teachers who were elevated to the ranks of Mission Specialists after undergoing NASA’s standard training for all astronauts.  The hope, of course, is to continue to spark the imagination of students everywhere and engage them on an academic level.

But this mission seeks to accomplish much more.  As the 10th-to-the-last shuttle mission ever (unless things change), STS-119 seeks to install the final set of solar arrays onto the International Space Station and fix the failed toilet to tap urine conversion system.

Of course there will be a wealth of on-board science experiments and ISS construction that will ensue over the 14 day mission.  But one interesting bit includes a one-off heat shield tile that will be placed under the left wing.  It will sport an irregular bump of 0.25 inches and will be monitored during re-entry at Mach 15 to understand the heating effects on that tile.  I can’t wait to catch the video on YouTube.

Oh, why is this mission delayed?  Endeavor’s flight in November 2008 was marred by a failure of a hydrogen flow control valve, one of three that adjusts the flow of gaseous hydrogen to fill the void of liquid hydrogen used during assent.  Fortunately, this particular failure was compensated for by the other two and the assent proceeded without a hitch.  But upon landing and an inspection of the valve, engineers were left with answering a basic question: Could this failure have led to catastrophe?

Well, it’s 6 days before the intended launch date of February 27.  And without a firm answer, NASA has wisely decided to postpone the mission.

More to come…


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