The space shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station for the last time this morning and started its two-day journey back to the Kennedy Space Center.
The shuttle fired its jets to separate from the ISS at 8:37am Eastern, NASA said. Discovery is scheduled to land at 11:58am on Wednesday; at this point, weather conditions are favorable.
Overall, the astronauts engaged in seven days, 23 hours, and 55 minutes worth of joint activities with the ISS crew. This is Discovery's 39th and final mission.
The crew received a special wake-up call at 3:23am this morning: the theme from "Star Trek" and a recorded message from actor William Shatner. "Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before," Shatner said.
What you see above is the highest resolution picture ever taken of planet Earth, recently uploaded to Flickr by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The images took months to piece together, using thousands of true-color images in an attempt to minimize cloud coverage in the final picture, providing a better view of the land masses.
This spectacular “blue marble” image is the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date. Using a collection of satellite-based observations, scientists and visualizers stitched together months of observations of the land surface, oceans, sea ice, and clouds into a seamless, true-color mosaic of every square kilometer (.386 square mile) of our planet. These images are freely available to educators, scientists, museums, and the public. This record includes preview images and links to full resolution versions up to 21,600 pixels across.
You can see the images in larger resolution, as well as an alternate view, over on the Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr page.
Read More | Flickr
Although a space shuttle mission was canceled because of a hydrogen gas leak, NASA successfully launched its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on an Atlas V rocket along with a Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite yesterday. Sent off at 5:32 p.m. ET, the LRO, scheduled to reach its destination June 23, has a mission is to look for potential landing sites for astronauts while the LCROSS will be looking for evidence of water on the moon’s poles.
Read More | NASA
While we were all leading our mundane lives the past week, astronauts John Grunsfeld and Andrew Feustel spent 7 hours installing a new camera on the Hubble Telescope. This cam replaces one that was built in the 90s and is sensitive to infrared and ultraviolet light as well as the human eye’s wavelengths. As we have previously mentioned, this is NASA’s final trek that over an eleven day period includes replacing a key computer.
Read More | Reuters
NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope is about to receive its final upgrade, one that they hope means another 5 years of use. Atlantis and a crew of seven astronauts took off today, but it almost didn’t happen. Hubble Huggers such as Fernando Ribeiro, who founded the site SaveTheHubble, were undoubtedly partially responsible. He collected about 5,500 signatures on a petition to reverse a decision by NASA to postpone a Hubble repair mission after the 2003 Columbia disaster. NASA credits the support as part of the reason it changed its mind.
Read More | Space
Remember how we told you to vote Colbert for the new ISS node? They may not select his name for the capsule, but NASA got so much hype that Expedition 14 and 15 astronaut Sunita “Suni” Williams is going to announce the winner on the show. Colbert had this to say about the hoopla surrounding his nomination, “I certainly hope NASA does the right thing. Just kidding, I hope they name it after me.”
More than a million entries were received in total. Tune in to Comedy Central tonight at 11:30 p.m. EDT for the results.
Read More | Information Week
Lucky Charles Simonyi is going back into space March 26, the first private citizen to make a return trip. He will conduct a series of experiments as well as communicate with students via HAM radio on the ISS (ARISS) during the 12 day trek. We first mentioned him back in 2007 and now, like then, he will continue to blog from his website and feature live video and audio content from NASA TV in his “Follow the Updates” section. Although the second flight is undoubtedly still costing him a fortune, we expect he will reuse his suit.
Read More | Charles in Space
A tiny bat was spotted on the space shuttle when it was launched Sunday. After studying the photo taken by collectSpace.com (shown in close up in the upper left,) NASA officials said that it may have had a broken wing and was holding on to Discovery’s external fuel tank. The Final Inspection Team even named him ‘Interim Problem Report 119V-0080.’ They were hoping that he would let go before liftoff, but that does not appear to be the case. Vaya con Dios, little bat.
Read More | Space
We told you last week about NASA looking for help naming their new Node 3 module, and if you are into “The Colbert Report” you undoubtedly heard that he dissed the names that they came up with, Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity and Venture.
“Those aren’t space modules, those are organic teas,” Colbert said. “But you know what name would look fantastic on the side of that module? Colbert!”
Since the airing of that episode, the comic has gotten over 30,000 votes, second to the top name “Serenity” and beating out “Xenu,” Scientology’s galactic ruler. But you have to love the idea that perhaps if we all vote enough, we may see the name “Colbert” painted on the side. You have until March 20 to contribute to the count.
Read More | Live Science
It seems that an asteroid flew by our planet Monday and very few knew about it at the time. It was about 115 feet wide (about the size of a 10 story building) and came within about 45,000 miles, twice the distance of the highest satellites. Astronomers knew that DD45 was coming but figured there was no collision risk and didn’t make a big deal about it. We suppose that is so that those of us who watch sci-fi movies wouldn’t panic, but experts say that should one that size strike, it would have the impact of 1,000 bombs like the one that hit Hiroshima.
Read More | MSNBC