Thursday, February 24, 2011

Boeing Wins $35 Billion Air Force Tanker Program on Third Try

After nearly four months of delay, space shuttle Discovery blasted into the heavens one final time on Thursday, marking the beginning of the end for the space shuttle program.

The launch, set against a backdrop of Florida's blue skies, was glorious.

"For those watching us today, witness the majesty and power of Discovery as she lifts off one final time," said Discovery's commander, Steve Lindsey, a few minutes before the afternoon launch.

But the day was not without some last-minute drama. Less than half an hour before the 3:50 p.m. launch time, the computer systems used by the range safety officer malfunctioned. Suddenly the launch was, in the parlance of NASA, "no go."

The range safety officer essentially serves as the Federal Aviation Administration for rocket launches off the U.S. East Coast. It determines that the coast is clear for launches.

Launch window open

As minutes drained away, it became tense in the launch control room.

"Calm down, they're working a little issue over there," launch director Mike Leinbach had to tell his team shortly after the issue cropped up.

The range safety officers continued to work the issue and they eventually determined that their computer system was in a state that was acceptable for launch. The clearance to launch came just before the launch window closed.


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