CANAVERAL, Fla. - The next seven
astronauts to fly the space shuttle Discovery arrived at NASA's Florida spaceport Tuesday, each confident they will launch early next month and eager for a
final dress rehearsal, their commander said.
Veteran shuttle astronaut Steven Lindsey, commander of NASA's STS-121 shuttle mission slated to launch July 1, said he believes the mission will lift off early in its 19-day flight window.
"I and my crew are pretty optimistic that early July looks good," Lindsey said after his crew landed here at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to practice launch countdown procedures with shuttle ground crews and mission controllers.
NASA managers will meet at KSC this weekend to pick a hard launch date for the STS-121 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the space agency's second planned shuttle flight since the 2003 Columbia accident, and hold press conference Saturday afternoon, NASA said in a statement.
Lindsey and his fellow shuttle crewmates walked off their jet transport at about 4:37 p.m. EDT (2037 GMT) after a two-hour flight from Houston, home to NASA's Johnson Space Center, and one day of delays due to stormy weather spawned by Tropical Storm Alberto.
A veteran of three shuttle flights, Lindsey introduced reporters to his STS-121 crew: Discovery pilot Mark Kelly, mission specialists Michael Fossum, Lisa Nowak, Piers Sellers, Stephanie Wilson, and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter.
"He only paid for a one-way trip, so we're going to leave him up on space station," Lindsey said of Reiter, who will join the Expedition 13 crew aboard the ISS once Discovery departs the orbital laboratory.
The STS-121 spaceflight is the second of two test missions - the first of which, STS-114, launched in July 2005 - to shake down orbiter inspection and repair techniques, as well as shuttle external tank changes to reduce flight risks during launch.
Lindsey and his crewmates are in the final stages of training for their mission and will spend the next two days in a Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), a sort of launch countdown rehearsal that culminates in a simulation aboard Discovery on Pad 39B.
The astronauts were expected to fly to KSC Monday in their own T-38 jet aircraft, but settled for a group arrival a day later as Tropical Storm Alberto loosed torrents of rain and other stormy weather across Central Florida.
"We've rearranged our schedule and we're going to stay an extra day to get everything done down here," Lindsey said. "As far as we know, everything's okay."
KSC spokesperson Tracy Young told SPACE.com that the STS-121 crew shifted a training session to practice driving NASA's M-113 armored personnel carrier, which is designed to carry astronaut crews during an emergency evacuation of the shuttle launch pad, to late Wednesday instead of today as part of their schedule change.
The crew will now stay at KSC through about midday Friday before returning to Houston, Young said.
- Discovery Shuttle Astronauts Ready for STS-121 Mission
- Busy Spacewalks on Tap for STS-121 Mission
- Shuttle Discovery 'Safe to Fly' July Launch, NASA Says
- Return to Flight: NASA's Road to STS-121