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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.

Construction Milestones

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)

Discovery landing 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 747 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)

Source: NASA.


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Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.



Discovery during a rare night-launch in 1999.

Courtesy of NASA

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