STS-133 astronauts Steve Lindsey and Alvin Drew autograph launch and crew photos of space shuttle Discovery's final mission for Dryden engineer Brittany Wells and scores of other Dryden staff following their informal presentation on the mission at NASA Dryden April 26.
Space shuttle mission STS-133 commander Steve Lindsey and mission specialist Alvin Drew outlined Space Shuttle Discovery's final mission to an appreciative audience of employees during a visit to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center April 26.
Lindsey, currently chief of NASA's astronaut corps, is a veteran of five shuttle missions on three orbiters, three on Discovery and one each on Atlantis and Columbia. Drew flew on two shuttle flights, both on Discovery. The crew also included pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Steve Bowen, who was a late replacement when lead spacewalker Tim Kopra was injured and could not make the flight.
Space shuttle Discovery heads to space after lifting off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final flight, the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station on Feb. 24, 2011. (NASA / Kenny Allen / Mike Gayle)
› Larger image The 13-day mission brought a new storage module, spare parts and prepared the International Space Station for future research.
One mission task called for teaming up with the space station crew to move an equipment platform, the Express Logistics Carrier that carried spare parts for the station, out of the shuttle's cargo bay and onto the station's truss. Drew described some of the maneuvers with the robotic arms on the shuttle and ISS as "break-dancing maneuvers."
Drew and Bowen conducted two spacewalks during the mission. Working outside Discovery's cargo bay and on the station, the two completed installation of the Italian-built Leonardo module on the station's Unity node. Now called the Permanent Multipurpose Module, it is essentially a closet for storing equipment and supplies.
Lindsey and Drew noted that Robonaut 2, the first dexterous humanoid robot in space, was among a host of new science experiments and hardware brought to the station on the mission. After checkout, it is intended to serve as an astronaut assistant for dangerous or boring tasks.
As for their best memories or experiences in space on the shuttles, both astronauts had several.
STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey's most memorable shuttle experience - seeing the Earth from space and the colors of the stars. "What really sticks with me was the first time I looked out the window on my first mission," Drew said. "I was stringing some coaxial cable for a local area network when I looked out, and it was one of those 'we're not in Kansas anymore' moments, especially when a satellite whizzed by about one kilometer away."
"Something that sticks with you no matter how much time you have in space is seeing Earth from space," added Lindsey. "It's spectacular, and it never gets old. Every time you look at the Earth, you see something different, even if you've flown over it a thousand times."
"You see meteors below you, which is really cool," Lindsey said. "Through the window, you can see the meteors entering the atmosphere. As for colors, you can see all kinds. As opposed to just seeing the sky dim, as you do on Earth, you can actually see multiple color bands in the atmosphere.
"At night, if you turn off all the cabin lights so there are no reflections, you can see unbelievable stars in all kinds of different colors that you don't see even in high-altitude flight. It's pretty spectacular."
Drew noted that the STS-133 mission patch was initially commissioned to the late aerospace artist Robert McCall, who had designed several mission patches, including that for STS-1, and who created several murals and paintings on display at NASA Dryden.
STS-133 mission specialist Alvin Drew's most memorable shuttle experience - working with those on the mission and seeing satellites passing below them - "we're not in Kansas anymore' " McCall was at work on preliminary designs for the STS-133 patch shortly before his death, and his family sent the patch designs to NASA following his passing and the agency commissioned another artist to combine two of the variations.
Having to replace the injured Kopra with Bowen only a few months away from launch presented a challenge, which Drew said was met by having Bowen focus on the spacewalks and dividing other duties among the rest of the crew.
Lindsey noted that American astronauts have had to learn the Russian language as part of their training for decades in order to communicate with the Russians on the ISS and during Soyuz flights to and from the station.
The shuttle commander pointed out that Dryden has had a central role in shuttle support.
"We need shuttle support here [in order to] to fly out there," he said. "From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for making Discovery's last flight a success."
Discovery's landing at Kennedy Space Center marked the conclusion of its 39th mission. Discovery flew more missions than any other space shuttle, carrying the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, sending the Ulysses robotic probe on its way to the sun, being the first shuttle to rendezvous with the Mir Space Station, and delivering the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the ISS. It carried 180 astronauts into space during its 27-year career.
The first space shuttle to be retired, it will soon be displayed at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy center at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C. Although Discovery will no longer travel into space, Lindsey and Drew said it would continue to inspire young people as they reach for the stars.
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center