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Discovery (OV-103)




Discovery, the third orbiter to become operational at Kennedy Space Center, was named after one of two ships that were used by the British explorer James Cook in the 1770s during voyages in the South Pacific that led to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. Another of his ships was the Endeavour, the namesake of NASA's newest orbiter.

Cook also used Discovery to explore the coasts of southern Alaska and northwestern Canada. During the American Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin made a safe conduct request for the British vessel because of the scientific importance of its research.

Other famous ships have carried the name Discovery, including one used by Henry Hudson to explore Hudson Bay in Canada as well as search for what was hoped to be the northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1610 and 1611. Another, based on whaling ship design, was used by the British Royal Geographical Society for an expedition to the North Pole in 1875. This organization then built another Discovery in 1901 to conduct its Antarctic expedition that concluded in 1904. This ship still exists and is being preserved by the Society.

In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Discovery is commonly refered to as OV-103, for Orbiter Vehicle-103. Empty Weight was 151,419 lbs at rollout and 171,000 lbs with main engines installed.


Upgrades and Feature

Discovery benefited from lessons learned in the construction and testing of Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger. At rollout, its weight was some 6,870 pounds less than Columbia. Two orbiters, Challenger and Discovery, were modified at KSC to enable them to carry the Centaur upper stage in the payload bay. These modifications included extra plumbing to load and vent Centaur's cryogenic (L02/LH2) propellants (other IUS/PAM upper stages use solid propellants), and controls on the aft flight deck for loading and monitoring the Centaur stage. No Centaur flight was ever flown and after the loss of Challenger it was decided that the risk was too great to launch a shuttle with a fueled Centaur upper stage in the payload bay.


Construction Milestones


January 29, 1979
Contract Award

August 27, 1979
 Start long lead fabrication of Crew Module

June 20, 1980
Start fabrication lower fuselage

November 10, 1980 
Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage

December 8, 1980 
Start initial system installation aft fuselage

March 2, 1981 
Start fabrication/assembly of payload bay doors

October 26, 1981 
Start initial system installation, crew module, Downey

January 4, 1982 
Start initial system installation upper forward fuselage

March 16, 1982 
Midfuselage on dock, Palmdale

March 30, 1982 
Elevons on dock, Palmdale

April 30, 1982 
Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman

April 30, 1982 
Lower forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale

July 16, 1982
 Upper forward fuselage on dock, Palmdale
August 5, 1982 
Vertical stabilizer on dock, Palmdale
September 3, 1982 
Start of Final Assembly
October 15, 1982 Body flap on dock, Palmdale January 11, 1983 
Aft fuselage on dock, Palmdale
February 25, 1983 
Complete final assembly and closeout installation, Palmdale
February 28, 1983 
Start initial subsystems test, power-on, Palmdale
May 13, 1983 
Complete initial subsystems testing
July 26, 1983 
Complete subsystems testing
August 12, 1983 
Completed Final Acceptance
October 16, 1983 
Rollout from Palmdale
November 5, 1983 
Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
November 9, 1983 
Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
June 2, 1984 
Flight Readiness Firing
August 30, 1984 
First Flight (41-D)

Discovery's Flights to Date


41-D (08/30/84)

51-A (11/08/84)

51-C (01/24/85)

51-D (04/12/85)

51-G (06/17/85)   51-I  (08/27/85) STS-26 (09/29/88)
STS-29 (03/13/89) STS-33 (11/22/89)

STS-31 (04/24/90)

STS-41 (10/06/90)

STS-39 (4/28/91) STS-48 (09/12/91) STS-42 (01/22/92)
STS-53 (12/02/92) STS-56 (04/08/93) STS-51 (09/12/93) STS-60 (02/03/94)   STS-64 (09/09/94) STS-63 (02/03/95) STS-70 (07/13/95)

Discovery underwent a nine-month Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP) in Palmdale California. The vehicle was outfitted with a 5th set of cryogenic tanks and an external airlock to support missions to the international Space Station. (Reference KSC Shuttle Status 8/25/1995). Discovery departed Palmdale, CA, riding piggy-back on a modified Boeing 747 at 10:01am EDT 6/28/96 and arrived at KSC on 6/29/96. (Reference KSC Shuttle Status 7/01/1996).

STS-82 (02/11/97) STS-85 (8/7/97) STS-91 (6/2/98) STS-95 (10/29/98) STS-96 (5/27/99)    

To OMDP (Palmdale) 9/23/99 (Reference KSC Press Release 74-99)

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