STS-121 Astronaut Crew Arrive at NASA Spaceport
STS-121 commander Steven Lindsey (at center with microphone) talks to reporters after he and his crew landed their T-38 jet aircraft at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 27, 2006.
Credit: SPACE.com/T. Malik.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The seven astronauts set to ride NASA's space shuttle Discovery into orbit later this week arrived at their launch site Tuesday eagerly awaiting a July 1 space shot.

The STS-121 astronauts, commanded by shuttle flight veteran Steven Lindsey, arrived here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in separate T-38 jets from the Houston, Texas, where they have trained for their spaceflight at the agency's Johnson Space Center. The shuttle mission will mark NASA's second orbiter test flight since the 2003 Columbia accident.

"We're really excited to be here and ready to go do this for real," Lindsey said to reporters at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility, where he and his crewmates parked their NASA aircraft by 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT).  "We're prepared as we're going to be."

Lindsey and his STS-121 crewmates - pilot Mark Kelly, mission specialists Michael Fossum, Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson, Piers Sellers and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter - will ride Discovery on a two-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS). In addition to testing shuttle inspection and repair methods, the astronauts will also deliver fresh supplies to the ISS along with Reiter, who will join the space station's Expedition 13 crew already onboard.

"After years and years of training, I think this is a remarkable moment, coming close to launch," said Reiter, who will be ESA's first long-duration astronaut - and the first non-U.S. or Russian crewmember - to serve an extended term aboard the space station.

NASA's STS-121 mission comes after the space agency's first post-Columbia shuttle flight, the STS-114 spaceflight also aboard Discovery, which launched to the ISS in July 2005. Discovery's launch system has undergone a series of modifications to reduce the risk to astronauts.

The most noticeable change is the removal of a problematic foam ramp from Discovery's external tank, which engineers culled to reduce the risk of large pieces of foam insulation falling from the fuel tank and damaging the orbiter.

During the STS-114 launch, large pieces of foam fell from the ramp during the orbiter's ascent but did not strike the orbiter. A similar problem critically damaged the Columbia orbiter during liftoff, breaching its heat shield and leading to its destruction - and the loss of the shuttle's seven-astronaut crew - during reentry.

"Discovery is ready to go and we're ready to go as well," Kelly told reporters. "Hopefully, we'll have some great weather Saturday."