Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

February 24, 1996

Tanks for the Lift
Credit: NASA, STS-29 Crew, James P. Bagian.

Explanation: Sixteen minutes after the liftoff of STS-29, the Space Shuttle Discovery's jettisoned External Tank (ET) is seen here, in a photograph by shuttle astronaut James P. Bagian, falling back towards Earth. The 154 foot long ET is the largest non-reusable component in the Shuttle system. After carrying over 500,000 gallons of liquid propellant to feed the shuttle's main engines during liftoff, its ultimate fate is to re-enter the atmosphere, break up and descend into a remote ocean area. The side of this ET shows a normal burn scar caused during the separation of one of the reusable solid rocket boosters.

Tomorrow's picture: A High Energy Fleet

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (GMU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA).
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