Discovery astronauts fly to Florida for launch
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: June 27, 2006
Commander Steve Lindsey and his six crewmates - pilot Mark Kelly, flight engineer Lisa Nowak, spacewalkers Piers Sellers and Mike Fossum, Stephanie Wilson and European astronaut Thomas Reiter - flew to the Kennedy Space Center today for final preparations before launch Saturday on a space station servicing mission.
Arriving aboard two-seat T-38 jet trainers, the astronauts touched down on the shuttle's 3-mile-long runway at mid morning, landing one at a time in a staggered sequence.
"We're really excited to be here, ready to go do this for real," Lindsey told reporters at the runway. "We've been training for a long time, we're as prepared as we're going to be. The vehicle is ready and everything's looking 'go.' So weather permitting, which I'm pretty confident in, we're going to be airborne on July 1."
Discovery's launch from pad 39B is targeted for 3:48:37 p.m. Saturday, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the shuttle into the plane of the space station's orbit. Afternoon showers are expected, but NASA has not yet issued an official forecast.
"I'm hoping the weather's going to improve a little bit in the next few days and we'll get off on time," said Sellers. "It's great to be here at last."
Discovery's flight is only the second post-Columbia mission and the first launch in nearly a year as NASA has struggled to overcome ongoing problems with the foam insulation on the shuttle's external fuel tank.
The goals of the 115th shuttle mission are to deliver more than 5,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the space station; to repair a stalled robot arm transporter needed for continued assembly; and to deliver European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter to the outpost as a full-time crew member.
Reiter is on board Discovery under a commercial contract between the European and Russian space agencies. He will join station commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineer Jeff Williams for a long-duration stay aboard the outpost, boosting crew size back to three for the first time since the immediate aftermath of the 2003 Columbia disaster.
"I'm the one who will be left behind on the station," Reiter joked today. "After years and years of training, I think this is a remarkable moment. I think we all are confident our launch will signify the continuation of assembly of the station, returning to a three-man crew and utilizing the station for its (intended) purpose."
Discovery's countdown to launch is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday.