Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shuttle Astronauts Arrive For Launch Early Tuesday

Seven astronauts flew to Kennedy Space Center Wednesday just hours after NASA managers gave a green light for the planned launch next Tuesday of shuttle Discovery on a mission to outfit the International Space Station.

Flying in a Gulfstream II aircraft, the Discovery crew landed at the shuttle runway at KSC about 6:37 p.m. The crew departed Ellington Air Field near NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston around 4:34 p.m. EDT. The early departure aimed to avoid any tropical weather that might made the flight to KSC more difficult or dangerous.

Shuttle crews normally come on three or four days prior to flight. In this case, the astronauts arrived more than 48 hours before the countdown is slated to pick up at 11 p.m. Friday.

Crew quarters at Johnson Space Center, where the astronauts entered quarantine on Monday, are being renovated. So the astronauts headed for the spartan digs at the KSC Operations and Checkout Building.

Discovery mission commander Rick Sturckow, wearing a red STS-128 ball cap, led the crew down the steps of the Gulfstream and onto the apron of the airfield, where photographers gathered to greet them.

"We've been studying and training hard for just about a year now, and we're ready to go accomplish this mission. Very happy to be here," Sturckow said.

The rest of the astronauts also stepped up to the microphone and made very brief comments about their roles in the mission and how glad they were to be in Florida for launch countdown.

Mission specialist Danny Olivas had a special message for his wife, Maria: "Happy 20th anniversary."

Discovery mission specialist Nicole Stott, who is only the third KSC worker to be selected as an astronauts and fly in space, also was excited.

"I'm really, really happy to be back here at KSC, and I'm really looking forward to the ride to station next week."

Discovery and its astronauts are scheduled to launch at 1:36 a.m. Tuesday.

We'll have live updates here in The Flame Trench from 11 p.m. pick-up of the countdown on Friday through launch, the mission and landing. Count on 24/7 NASA TV coverage. Simply click the NASA TV box at the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer, and be sure to refresh the page for periodic updates.

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