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This Week @ NASA, March 11, 2011
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This Week at NASA…

DISCOVERY’S FINAL TRIP HOME - To complete its 39th and final flight…

Mission Control: "Main Gear Touchdown. Nose of the shuttle being rotated down toward the flight deck. The parachute being deployed and Nose Gear touchdown and the end of an historic journey."

Space shuttle Discovery landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center after its 5-point-3 million-mile journey to the International Space Station. The STS-133 crew of Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Al Drew, Nicole Stott, Mike Barratt and Steve Bowen delivered the Permanent Multipurpose Module, which provides extra space for science experiments and storage. Discovery also brought the Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4) to the station, an external platform for holding large equipment.

Astronaut: "I know there’s more important things to do, but we want to take a picture of you."

Spacewalkers: "Okay, that’s good, back to work."

Bowen and Drew conducted two spacewalks to do maintenance work and install new components on the orbiting complex. The Discovery astronauts also joined with their ISS hosts to take a call on station from President Obama, who asked about the station’s newest crew member, Robonaut 2, or R2, the first human-like robot to live and work in space.

President Obama: "Are you guys making them him do chores up there, washing the dishes or more exciting jobs?"

Steve Lindsey: "He’s still packing foam (laughter) so we hope to get him out shortly and it’s going to be fun to see how he works."

President Obama: "He’s still in packing foam; that’s a shame man. C’mon guys unpack the guy. (laughter) He flew all that way and you guys aren’t unpacking him."

Steve Lindsey: "The poor guy has been locked in that foam for about four months now. Every once in awhile we hear some scratching sounds (laughter) from inside."

The crew was enthusiastically welcomed back by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in his remarks about space shuttle’s Discovery’s final mission and the orbiter’s place in space exploration history.

Charles Bolden: "If my numbers are correct it’s the 39th flight on Discovery. Discovery has a very special place for me and for Bob Cabana, over here, because we both had an opportunity to fly on it twice so, this is very bittersweet for all of us."

Discovery becomes the first in NASA’s three-orbiter fleet to be retired. In all, Discovery traveled more than 148.2 million miles and made more than 58-hundred orbits of Earth over a total of 365 days, exactly one year, in space.

Later space shuttle Endeavour moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A for its final mission, a 14-day journey to the International Space Station; Endeavour’s “rollout” was completed early next morning.

The STS-134 crew: Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg Johnson, and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff, and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency will deliver to the ISS the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an instrument designed to detect unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. The crew also will deliver the Express Logistics Carrier 3, a platform with spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttle program ends later this year. Endeavour is targeted to launch April 19.


NASA’ Payload Operations Center in Huntsville, Alabama celebrated a major milestone. It’s been 10 years since the Payload Operations Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center became the science command post for the International Space Station. Since March 8, 2001, the Marshall team has supported more than 6,000 hours of science experiments conducted by 41 space station crew members, and coordinated more than 1,100 experiments on board the orbiting complex. The Center celebrated these historic accomplishments during a special program, which included a plaque hanging ceremony in the Payload Operations Center to mark the event.

Marshall Managers, including Center Director Robert Lightfoot, took part in the activities and discussed the vital role the Payload Operations Center has played in the history of NASA’s one-of-a kind orbiting laboratory.

On a cold and windy February afternoon 50 years ago, the late Paul Bikle soared into the stratosphere with one goal in mind – to set a world altitude record for unpowered sailplanes. Bikle, then director of NASA’s Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base and president of the Soaring Society of America, was an avid and accomplished sailplane pilot who devoted every weekend to soaring. Former NASA research pilot Einar Enevoldson, a record-setting sailplane pilot himself, noted at a recent colloquium that Bikle knew what he wanted to do, and didn't exceed what he knew he could do:

Einar Enevoldso: "He prepared very thoroughly, and it was a conservative, test-pilot-like engineering approach to the problem. Paul had excellent eyes, and he certainly had the competitive instinct and the flying talents – could have been a great fighter pilot."

In just over two hours, Bikle and his Schweizer 1-23 sailplane were back on the ground after reaching an altitude of 46,267 feet – a remarkable record that would stand for 25 years. The Schweizer has been preserved by his family, and was on display during the colloquium at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. Seeing the aircraft in which Bikle’s record was achieved and comparing it to more current, high-performance sailplanes, his record is all the more remarkable. Bikle's eldest son Hugh recalled that Bikle's tenure at the helm of the NASA field center was marked by amazing advances in aeronautical achievement:

Hugh Bikle: "…During his career, Paul Bikle helped to move aviation from 450 miles per hour to 4,500 miles per hour and from 60,000 feet to the edge of space. Not a bad life, both at home and at work."

For the past ten years the Reachout for the Rainbow Science Fair has inspired students in the Hunters Point community in San Francisco. This year, NASA Ames Research Center joined the celebration and supported the effort to help energize the next generation of space explorers.

Lew Braxton: "We’re bringing it to them. We brought our people out here to serve as ambassadors, we’re doing everything we can to let them know that science, technology, engineering and math is where it is as far as the foundation. And if you want to explore and go into new places within the universe, this is the way you go about doing it."

The festival featured several guest speakers, performances by students, interactive science exhibits as well as a number of hands-on activities provided by the Traveling Space Museum.

Donn McMahon: "It was a wonderful experience for us having NASA come out and present these wonderful exhibits for the kids. This is so important because kids need to see examples of what their possibilities are. All of our kids got to gain something from this today."

The event provides a large community of children and their families a valuable opportunity to discover a personal interest in science at a nearby venue.

Virgie Patterson-Newman: "And, it’s all about the children, it’s all about the community and it is just so exhilarating to have this experience today and I am so grateful to the NASA Ames Research Center, I just have deep respect for what they have brought to the community."

NASA teamed up with the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), to promote NASA Awareness week in Charlotte, North Carolina, a series of agency-sponsored activities that promote the value of science, technology, engineering and math or STEM education. Astronaut Lee Morin kicked off the week with a special "Education Day" at the Charlotte Convention Center. Hundreds of local middle and high school students turned out to hear how STEM classes can lead to exciting careers and futures.

Lee Morin: "Technology, Engineering, Science and Math; that’s why we’re here today to encourage you to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Math so that you can do something like help build a space station one day."

Each year, the CIAA tournament brings together men's and women's basketball teams from 13 historically black colleges and universities to compete in a six day tournament.

At an arena in downtown Charlotte, tournament attendees visited NASA booths for hands-on activities, games, and educational materials. Also, college students interested in NASA internships could investigate opportunities at the CIAA Career Expo. A STEM Awareness Breakfast was also part of the week’s lineup. Via Internet, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Associate Administrator for education Leland Melvin, with other education officials, discussed education programs and opportunities available in North Carolina for both students and faculty. Officials believe NASA’s presence at the CIAA helped promote the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math as only NASA can.

85 years ago, on March 16, 1926, Robert Goddard successfully launched the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket from a field in Auburn, Massachusetts. Goddard continued his rocket development work throughout the remainder of his life, achieving numerous milestones, and helping pave the way for contemporary spaceflight. Established in 1959, the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland was named in his memory.

NASA ANNIVERSARY: Gemini Titan 8 -- 1st manned docking mission, March 16, 1966

And, that same day 40 years later, the Gemini Titan 8 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its way to becoming NASA’s first manned docking mission. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott docked their capsule with an unmanned Agena target vehicle. While docked, a thruster malfunction caused a near-fatal tumbling of the craft. The crew was able to stabilize the vehicle, but used up too much fuel in the process. Plans for a spacewalk and other activities were immediately abandoned as Armstrong and Scott prepared to make the first emergency landing of a manned U.S. spacecraft. Just over 10 hours after launch, Gemini 8 splashed safely down in the western Pacific Ocean about 500 miles west of Okinawa. Gemini served as a bridge between the Mercury and Apollo programs -- testing equipment and procedures, and preparing astronauts and ground crews for future missions to the moon.

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