NASA is live-streaming the final launch of its Discovery shuttle, which is in its 27th year of service. As we near the end of the shuttle program, it's worth trying to catch this one, especially if you've never witnessed the spectacle of a live launch before.
NASA's offering a few streams of the launch on its website, but the video format has caused some problems for viewers, particularly those using Macs. I'd suggest tuning into the Ustream broadcast, which should work with nearly any computer and is currently serving an HD stream. The countdown is about to begin:
Looking back at all the years of shuttle service and trying to convey context and perspective, it's hard to know where to start. I think, however, that two sets of figures are a good start.
The Discovery, one of only three remaining operation shuttles, took its first flight in 1984. It, like the other shuttles, was only designed to be in service for 10 years; however, given the overzealous predictions about how frequent missions would be, and the lack of a ready replacement after a decade, the real figures for the Discovery have come to 27 years and 38 missions.
The shuttles, Discovery included, we designed with the goal of reducing launch costs from thousands of dollars per pound to "$50 and eventually as low as $5 a pound." The real cost, as pointed out by Brendan Koerner, is closer to $20,000 per pound.