The last five missions of the 29-year-old Space Shuttle have been planned, anticipating completion of the International Space Station (ISS) before the culmination of 2010, reports Discovery News. February looks to see the launch of the shuttle Endeavor: to deliver the Tranquility node which will serve as quarters for four crew members, as well as the Cupola (pictured above), an Italian-built window for 360-degree views to be utilized to keep an eye on space-walkers, the earth, and the stars by the inhabitants of the ISS. Then the shuttle Discovery will be launched in March to deliver spare parts, which scientists hope will keep the station operational through at least 2020. Shuttle Atlantis will take its final flight in May, delivering a Russian-made space dock and research node.
The Endeavor will make its last launch in July, to deliver yet more spare parts, as well as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics experiment, engineered at CERN, which hopes to find evidence of Antimatter, Dark Matter, Strangelets, and to accurately gauge cosmic radiation (possibly to gift astronauts with the Fantastic Four’s powers), which has been the most debilitating problem with the proposed mission to Mars.
Discovery will then launch again in September, to deliver supplies and even more spare parts, as well as a storage compartment to remain tethered to the station. While a sixth flight is under consideration, if it does not get approved or funded, Discovery will be the last flight of the Space Shuttles. Once that happens, it will be up to the European Space Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and commercial space venturists (such as Space Exploration Technologies and the Orbital Science Corporation) to keep the ISS stocked with fuel, food, and various supplies, besides keeping the station staffed.
Said NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, “The shuttle has a tough year to go … lots to do. There’s no vehicle that could have built and assembled the station. Now that the station’s assembled, it’s time to retire the shuttle, to use smaller vehicles … to transport crew back and forth.” Between no immediate replacement for the Space Shuttle lined up, and the termination of cost to launch the big bad SS (roughly $450 million per mission), NASA is about to see a big influx of cash, including the possible budget bonus they may get from the White House (don’t ask me how, I’m no economist). So where’s this money going to go?
I for one am at a loss. Maybe they’ll work on getting a secondary WISE up. Perhaps they’ll work on the space elevator and fulfill Jules Verne’s wildest dreams. Think it’s science fiction? Well, it is now, but here’s a NOVA special on the subject to get your gears going.