Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Discovery Unveiled On Eve Of Last Launch

NASA unveiled shuttle Discovery at Kennedy Space Center tonight on the eve of its planned launch to the International Space Station -- it's 39th and final flight.

The Rotating Service Structure at Launch Complex 39A began backing away from the 18-story spaceship shortly after 8 p.m., leaving the launch vehicle poised for a planned 4:50 p.m. liftoff on STS-133, a mission primarily aimed at delivery a spacious storage module to the outpost.

The gantry move cleared the way for NASA engineers to begin loading more than a half-million gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the shuttle's 15-story external tank.

Cracks in support braces in the ribbed mid-section of the tank created one of the most difficult technical challenges NASA has faced in the 30-year history of the shuttle program and the test, analyses and ultimate repairs on the tank prompted a four-month delay in the launch.

Senior mission managers will meet at 7 a.m. to decide whether to fuel the external tank and make a launch attempt on Thursday.

Live coverage here in The Flame Trench will pick up at 7:15 a.m. Click the NASA TV box on the right side of this page to launch our NASA TV viewer and refresh this page for periodic updates.

A three-hour external tan propellant-loading operation is scheduled to begin at 7:25 a.m.

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