March 10, 2009

Discovery Cleared For Launch On Wednesday

NASA officials said the space shuttle Discovery had been cleared for launch on Wednesday, as crewmembers prepare to deliver the $300 million set of solar wing panels for the International Space Station, Reuter's reported.

The shuttle's launch director Mike Leinbach said they were not tracking any issues and reported the team was "anxious to go."

The seven shuttle crewmembers arrived at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday.

Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said there would be a full moon rising about an hour before launch but said, otherwise, the weather is expected to be nearly ideal, with a 90 percent chance of suitable launch conditions.

The International Space Station's $300 million solar wing panels will be the last major U.S.-built component for the $100 billion complex. Scheduled for completion next year, the station has been under construction in orbit for more than a decade with the aid of 16 nations.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, a 45-year-old aerospace engineer who will become the first from his country to serve aboard the station, will also be hitching a ride aboard Discovery.

Kuniaki Shiraki, executive director of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's human space program, called it a "historic week" for Japan's space program.

Wakata will replace NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, who has served as a flight engineer on the station since November.

Discovery's current launch was delayed four times because faulty control valves, which channel gaseous hydrogen from the shuttle's three main engines.

Lift off is scheduled for 9:20 p.m. EDT (0120 Thursday) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Only eight more flights remain before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, when NASA officials will begin testing a new spaceship called Orion that can travel to the space station as well as the moon.

Orion's first flight is targeted for 2015.


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