Tick tock: Counting down to shuttle Discovery's blastoff
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 22, 2009
The shuttle Discovery's countdown is proceeding smoothly through its initial hours with no technical problems of any significance, officials said Saturday. The weather remains unchanged, with forecasters calling for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time Tuesday.
With the moon setting to the west at 10:28 p.m. EDT Monday, Discovery's planned launch at 1:36:05 a.m. Tuesday will take place in a fully dark sky, giving area residents and tourists an early morning sky show.
"You know, in this business there are few sights as beautiful as a nighttime launch and I expect this to be a spectacular sight as Discovery roars to life early Tuesday morning and lights up the night sky," said Blackwell-Thompson.
Working by remote control, engineers plan to pump liquid oxygen and hydrogen into tanks supplying Discovery's fuel cells overnight Saturday, allowing NASA to make four launch attempts in five days if necessary.
A controller aboard Discovery was replaced after a recent malfunction and while the new unit is operating normally, engineers are reviewing past incidents to make sure work-arounds are available in case of additional problems in orbit.
Assuming no major issues are found, NASA will press ahead with the countdown and engineers will roll a protective gantry away from Discovery at 5 a.m. Monday, exposing the shuttle to view and setting the stage for fueling. Engineers plan to pump a half-million gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel into Discovery's external tank starting at 4:11 p.m. Monday.
Discovery's crew - commander Frederick Sturckow, pilot Kevin Ford, flight engineer Jose Hernandez, Patrick Forrester, John "Danny" Olivas, European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang and space station flight engineer Nicole Stott - will begin strapping in around 10:16 p.m.
Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said she expects a 70 percent chance of good weather for Discovery's fueling Monday afternoon and launch early Tuesday.
"Our primary concern on launch day is going to be right around the tanking time, that may be an issue if we do have some lightning in the area, and then when we get to launch," she said. "A nice dark sky for a beautiful launch, just a slight concern for showers in the area."
The forecast remains 70 percent "go" if launch slips to Wednesday, dropping to 60 percent Thursday.