The Kennedy Space Centre situated in the USA’s sunshine state, Florida yesterday launched space shuttle ‘Discovery’ closer to the sunshine than Florida will ever be. At 05:21am CDT, the seven strong crew of the discovery headed straight up to the ozone layer, bound for the great big vacuum in the sky to explore the ether.

Their mission is to include walking the path where even gravity dare not tread, the infinite gaping nothingness that we call space. In a mere 8.5 minutes the crew were thrown into blackness in hopes of docking the craft at the International Space Station. They must manoeuvre the vessel through the vastness that plays host to the stars, to both supply and retrieve cargo in what will be the last round trip of Leonardo (the multipurpose logistics module) to the orbiting space station. Amongst the various equipment sent into the station will be; the Muscle Atrophy Resistive Exercise System. This will provide more detailed information to scientists of the body’s reaction to the gravity free environment, as it is used to exercise different joints and muscles.

The day after the launch the crew will operate a 50ft robotic arm with the attached Orbiter Boom Sensor System, using the built in sensors and lasers to conduct a day long scan of any damage or carbon present on the shuttles wings and nose cap. Then relay close up images to the ground crew of state of the heat shield. Experts can then study these photos without leaving the safety of our atmosphere.

The intrepid explorers will take advantage of the space station’s transport vehicle Leonardo to move cargo and scientific equipment to and from the shuttle’s middeck, transporting in total eight tons of cargo in 100 hours.

This mission will be the first time that four women have been situated in space simultaneously. It will also be the first time that two specialist Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronauts will be together in the blackness. The crew will be taking advantage of their space tourism during the rendezvous manoeuvre. This will be a perfect time to take a few photos as the craft executes a one degree per second rotational “backflip”. These pictures will be sent back down to imagery analysts who will then be able to judge the current state of the shuttle’s thermal protection system, along with various other assessments of the state of the vehicle. They will then fly into the docking port provided by the Harmony module.

The crew will then join the team already present at the space station; the combined crew of thirteen will then perform various other tests including three space walks over the following nine days. As the human body is not exactly designed for space exploration, two space walkers will have to sleep in the Quest Joint Airlock which will allow them time to purge nitrogen from their systems, making the walk as safe as possible for them. This will prevent decompression sickness in the big black vacuum of space.

The first of the three space walks will involve the removal of an ammonia tank from Discovery. The second space walk will be on flight day seven. This will see the crew take the previously removed tank on a 6.5 hour walk in the vast lack of gravity and use it to replace the one currently residing on the starboard side of the station’s truss. The third session of special walking will see the ammonia tank which they replaced now be installed on the shuttle’s cargo bay. Then whilst at the Columbus laboratory they will remove a piece of hardware used to attach experiments to its side and also store this in the cargo bay. Then there is the installation of a camera and removal of an insulation blanket situated at the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. Then lastly the replacement of a light camera on Destiny’s exterior. Suffice to say these walks will involve slightly more than a simple dilly dally through the darkness. After this there will be a news conference on flight day ten to let the world know how it all went.

There will be many more tests carried out before the crew along with discovery and 20,000lbs of rubbish will be arriving back on the fourteenth day of the mission. They will make it back to the Kennedy space centre and much needed rest on the 18th of April.

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