Friday, April 02, 2010

Discovery in "great shape" for beautiful Monday liftoff

Preparations are proceeding smoothly for a pre-sunrise Monday blastoff of Discovery and seven astronauts that is expected to offer spectacular views along the Space Coast.

"All systems are in great shape," NASA Test Director Steve Payne said this morning. "The launch countdown is going very well."

The weather forecast remains 80 percent "go" for the 6:21 a.m. launch, the middle of a 10-minute window that would put the shuttle on track to dock with the International Space Station early Wednesday.

Discovery will haul 17,000 pounds of science experiments, equipment and supplies to the station, and perform three spacewalks that will replace ammonia coolant tanks on the right side of the station's structural backbone.

Checkouts of Discovery's avionics and various flight and launch pad systems are ongoing. Late today, workers will begin loading cryogenic reactants into the orbiter's power-producing fuel cell system.

The pad will first be cleared at 7 p.m. for checks of the pyrotechnic devices that allow the shuttle to break free of its pad and separate the solid rocket boosters and orbiter from the external tank during ascent.

NASA plans launch attempts Monday and Tuesday, if necessary. Then there would be several days off before a third attempt as workers top off the fuel cell system's liquid oxygen supply.

If Discovery launches Monday, the 13-day mission's landing would be planned for 8:29 a.m. April 18, with a second KSC attempt possible at 10:05 a.m.

Monday's launch is scheduled less than an hour before sunrise.

Sunlight could illuminate the orbiter as it rockets toward space, then splash its lingering plume of smoke and steam with a rainbow of color.

"It should be really, I think, a beautiful sight," said Kathy Winters, the shuttle weather officer. "I'm hoping that the visibility holds out for us for that."

IMAGE: Discovery's external tank and twin solid rocket boosters are visible this morning at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A. Credit: Michael Brown, Florida Today.

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