February 24 – Shuttle ‘Discovery’ Retires

February 24, 2011 – Last Flight of Shuttle Discovery (STS133)

STS133, led by commander Steven Lindsey on his fifth flight, was the 39th and last mission for Discovery, and the 133rd flight of the shuttle fleet.

This Way Up: the crew of STS-133 (image credit: NASA)
This Way Up: the crew of STS-133 (image credit: NASA)

The main objectives of the mission were the delivery of a new multipurpose module,Leonardo, and an external stowage platform, to the International Space Station.  Included in the cargo within Leonardo was Robonaut 2, a three-foot high (from waist to head – it has no legs) robotic astronaut, the first humanoid robot in space, taken aboard the ISS to test how such robots can be used in the unusual environment of a space station.

Also today, we celebrate the launch by the USA, on 24 February 1968, of Mariner 6.

Mariner 6 (or is it 7?) (Image: NASA)
Mariner 6 (or is it 7?) (Image: NASA)

Mariner 6 was half of a double-act with Mariner 7, launched 31 days later.  The aim was to study the surface of Mars from close fly-bys, with a view to facilitating future missions.  Part of the job, therefore, was to explore how to keep spacecraft working for long periods far from the Sun.  The remit of Mariner 6 also included the provision of data in preparation for the arrival of Mariner 7.

Two of the ground crew who worked on the Atlas/Centaur launch vehicle for this mission earned their money several times over in the build-up to the launch by narrowly averting the collapse of the whole structure when they noticed a pressurization fault.  They were both awarded medals for bravery by NASA, as the Atlas would probably have collapsed on top of them had they not been successful.

NASA Exceptional Bravery Medal
NASA Exceptional Bravery Medal

Between them, Mariners 6 and 7 returned over 200 photographs of the Martian surface, and together they covered 20% of the planet.  They were also used to measure ultraviolet and infrared levels, and discovered that the southern polar icecap is mostly carbon dioxide.

1987 – Discovery, in the Large Magellanic Cloud, of supernova 1987A from the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.


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