A crowd of a few hundred people gathered today at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., at the NASA Ames Research Center to view the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
The Exploration Center at NASA Ames was open to the public for a special prelaunch program celebrating the history of Discovery, the first of NASA's three remaining shuttles to be retired.
Guest speakers for today's historic launch included Sid Sun, who discussed the life sciences experiments that are traveling aboard Discovery, and Matt Deans (seen here answering students' questions), who talked about Ames' role in the development of Robonaut and other space-exploration robotics.
Former astronaut Karol J. 'Bo' Bobko, who flew on missions STS-6, STS-51D, and STS-51J, was on hand to give insightful commentary during the mission countdown activities, providing details of his personal experience with shuttle launch preparations and liftoff.
With 2 minutes and 30 seconds to go before launch, the Gaseous Oxygen Vent Hood, which pumps heated gaseous nitrogen into the hood to warm the liquid oxygen vent system, is retracted to prevent oxygen vapors exiting the vent louvers from condensing water vapor in the surrounding air into potentially damaging ice.
At 0 seconds, the two Solid Rocket Boosters, each with a thrust of approximately 3,300,000 pounds, are ignited, providing the main thrust to lift the space shuttle off the pad and up to an altitude of about 150,000 feet--24 miles high.
Each of the two Solid Rocket Boosters on the space shuttle carries more than 1 million pounds of solid propellant, and during liftoff each booster burns about 10 tons of fuel per second. Just a few minutes after launch, Discovery is traveling about 4,000 mph, and it soon accelerates to 17,500 mph to remain in orbit.
Visitors explore a full-scale model of the Destiny Lab portion of the International Space Station, the primary U.S. research facility, with experiments in human life science, materials research, and Earth observations.