Hundreds watch live as Discovery launches one last time

DOWNEY - Talk about enjoying the moment.Postponed a number of times due to either an engine fuel leak or bad weather conditions, the STS 133 space shuttle Discovery finally blasted off its launching pad in Cape Canaveral on 7 million pounds of thrust at 1:50 p.m. last Thursday to rendezvous with the International Space Station one last time, thrilling countless space enthusiasts everywhere. Here in Downey, at the invitation of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, an excited crowd of over 150 people viewed the awe-inspiring NASA TV-fed spectacle live on its big screen on the first floor. The excited viewers included wide-eyed kids watching between the bars of the Space Center's balustrade. When asked who the people in attendance were, in addition to the presence of a precious few notables, executive director Scott Pomrehn said, in a tone unable to disguise his satisfaction at finding an increasingly responsive audience, "They just walked in." Up on the second floor, close to 70 eighth graders from Sherman Oaks-based Ivy Bound Academy on a field trip watched the liftoff, too, on the Theater Room's projection screen, after spending hours imbibing instruction interactively on Mission Control and Space Shuttle procedures. According to space center house manager Kaili Rowland, the STS 133 mission is one of the last three planned shuttle missions for NASA. The space center will be hosting similar launch parties then. One, scheduled on April 19, will be that of space shuttle Endeavor STS 134, said center manager Christie Pierce. Closing out NASA's space shuttle program will be the launch of STS 135 Atlantis scheduled for June 28. It has been known for quite sometime now that NASA is phasing out these space shuttles and rely instead on its astronauts hitching rides on Russian Soyuz to link up with the International Space Center. The space powers that be are pondering alternative programs. In the meantime, said Pierce: "Mark your calendars and come join us for these educational events. They will be lots of fun."

********** Published: March 3, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 46