After a successful liftoff, the US space shuttle Discovery headed for the International Space Station (ISS) early yesterday, carrying a final pair of solar panels due to be installed ahead of the arrival of an expanded space crew. The spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:43pm on Sunday and reached orbit a little more than eight minutes later. The journey to the station was expected to take two days.
Mike Leinbach, launch director for the mission, said the liftoff was picture perfect.
“I have seen a lot of launches ... and this was the most visually beautiful,” he told reporters in a briefing. “It was just spectacular. When the orbiter and the tank, booster got up in the sunlight ... It was just gorgeous.”
The mission, one of the last major tasks of the more than decade-long effort to construct the station, has been shortened by a day after a hydrogen leak last week led to a scrub of an earlier launch date.
But National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials said that the problem had been cleared up and that there had been no recurrence of the malfunction.
The leak was discovered on Wednesday, when the external tank was 98 percent full of liquid hydrogen, prompting it to be emptied for the checks. In all, the shuttle mission was delayed five times since last month.
Once the Discovery mission installs the solar truss — the last major segment to be attached to the ISS which itself was begun in 1998 — the space station will become fully operational and capable of housing six astronauts, NASA said.
The mission also will allow space officials to make a swap of personnel, exchanging Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata for US astronaut Sandra Magnus, who will be returning to Earth after four months in space.
Wakata, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who is traveling aboard Discovery, will become the first Japanese crew member on the station.
Last week’s scrubbed launch forced space officials to shorten what had been planned as a 14-day mission to 13 days and to scrap one of four planned spacewalks.
However, officials said the scheduling adjustments should not affect the mission to deliver and install a fourth pair of solar panels to the ISS.
Installing the solar panels on the US$100 billion station was to take a two-astronaut team four space walks of more than six hours each to complete, NASA’s original plans showed.
The pairs of solar panels, containing 32,800 solar cells, are each 35m long. The final array, once in place, should boost available energy to the ISS to 120 kilowatts — equivalent to that used in about 50 houses — from the current 90.
The extra power will help run an expanded array of scientific experiments to be conducted in the ISS, which saw the addition over the past year of NASA workspace and a pair of international laboratories — Europe’s Columbus and Japan’s Kibo.
The main purpose of the space station is to provide an environment that is zero-gravity for scientific experiments.
However, at present, there is insufficient staff to simultaneously conduct research and maintain the space station.
Additional energy from the soon-to-be-installed solar panels will supply power for onboard laboratories and for the station’s crew, which will double from three to six in May.
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable