Space Shuttle Discovery
By Marty McDowell/NASA
Discovery, the third orbiter to become
operational at Kennedy Space Center, was named after one of two ships that
were used by the British explorer James Cook in the 1770s during voyages
in the South Pacific that led to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands.
Another of his ships was the Endeavour, the
namesake of NASA's newest orbiter.
Cook also used Discovery to explore the coasts of southern Alaska and
northwestern Canada. During the American Revolutionary War, Benjamin
Franklin made a safe conduct request for the British vessel because of the
scientific importance of its research.
Other famous ships have carried the name Discovery, including one used
by Henry Hudson to explore Hudson Bay in Canada as well as search for what
was hoped to be the northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific in
1610 and 1611. Another, based on whaling ship design, was used by the
British Royal Geographical Society for an expedition to the North Pole in
1875. This organization then built another Discovery in 1901 to conduct
its Antarctic expedition that concluded in 1904. This ship still exists
and is being preserved by the Society.
In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space
Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Discovery is
commonly referred to as OV-103, for Orbiter Vehicle-103. Empty Weight was
151,419 lbs at rollout and 171,000 lbs with main engines installed.
Upgrades and Features
Discovery benefited from lessons learned in the construction and
testing of Enterprise, Columbia
and Challenger. At rollout, its weight was
some 6,870 pounds less than Columbia. Two orbiters, Challenger and Discovery,
were modified at KSC to enable them to carry the Centaur upper stage in
the payload bay. These modifications included extra plumbing to load and
vent Centaur's cryogenic (L02/LH2) propellants (other IUS/PAM upper stages
use solid propellants), and controls on the aft flight deck for loading
and monitoring the Centaur stage. No Centaur flight was ever flown and
after the loss of Challenger it was decided that the risk was too great to
launch a shuttle with a fueled Centaur upper stage in the payload bay.
- 01/29/79 Contract Award
- 08/27/79 Start long lead fabrication of Crew Module
- 06/20/80 Start fabrication lower fuselage
- 11/10/80 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
- 12/08/80 Start initial system installation aft fuselage
- 03/02/81 Start fabrication/assembly of payload bay doors
- 10/19/81 Start detailed fabrication/assembly of body flap
- 10/26/81 Start initial system installation, crew module, Downey
- 01/04/82 Start initial system installation upper forward fuselage
- 03/16/82 Midfuselage on dock, Palmdale
- 03/30/82 Elevons on dock, Palmdale
- 04/30/82 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
- 04/30/82 Lower forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
- 07/16/82 Upper forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
- 08/05/82 Vertical stabilizer on dock, Palmdale
- 09/03/82 Start of Final Assembly
- 10/15/82 Body flap on dock, Palmdale
- 01/11/83 Aft fuselage on dock, Palmdale
- 02/25/83 Complete final assembly and closeout installation, Palmdale
- 02/28/83 Start initial subsystems test, power-on, Palmdale
- 05/13/83 Complete initial subsystems testing
- 07/26/83 Complete subsystems testing
- 08/12/83 Completed Final Acceptance
- 10/16/83 Rollout from Palmdale
- 11/05/83 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
- 11/09/83 Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
- 06/02/84 Flight Readiness Firing
- 08/30/84 First Flight (41-D)
on 10-10-90, courtesy of NASA
Discovery's Flights to date:
- 01. 41-D (08/30/84)
- 02. 51-A (11/08/84)
- 03. 51-C (01/24/85)
- 04. 51-D (04/12/85)
- 05. 51-G (06/17/85)
- 06. 51-I (08/27/85)
- 07. STS-26 (09/29/88)
- 08. STS-29 (03/13/89)
- 09. STS-33 (11/22/89)
- 10. STS-31 (04/24/90)
- 11. STS-41 (10/06/90)
- 12. STS-39 (4/28/91)
- 13. STS-48 (09/12/91)
- 14. STS-42 (01/22/92)
- 15. STS-53 (12/02/92)
- 16. STS-56 (04/08/93)
- 17. STS-51 (09/12/93)
- 18. STS-60 (02/03/94)
- 19. STS-64 (09/09/94)
- 20. STS-63 (02/03/95)
- 21. STS-70 (07/13/95)
- 22. STS-82 (02/11/97)
Discovery underwent a nine-month Orbiter Maintenance Down Period
(OMDP) in Palmdale California. The vehicle was outfitted with a 5th
set of cryogenic tanks and an external airlock to support missions to
the international Space Station. (Reference KSC Shuttle Status
8/25/1995). Discovery departed Palmdale, CA, riding piggy-back on
a modified Boeing
at 10:01am EDT 6/28/96 and arrived at KSC on 6/29/96. (Reference KSC
Shuttle Status 7/01/1996).
- 23. STS-85 (8/7/97)
- 24. STS-91 (6/2/98)
- 25. STS-95 (10/29/98)
- 26. STS-96 (5/27/99)
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Space References (Books):
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Space References (Videos):
Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets. BBC, 1999.
The Universe. A&E, 1996.
Discovery during a rare night-launch in 1999.
Courtesy of NASA