Shuttle Astronauts Rehearse March Launch to Space Station
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Endeavour's astronauts capped a practice countdown Monday with an emergency escape exercise, keeping NASA on track for the planned March 11 launch of another International Space Station construction mission.
Clad in partial-pressure launch-and-entry suits and space helmets with dark visors, the astronauts exited the orbiter's side hatch on the 195-foot level of its Kennedy Space Center launch tower. The hurry-up came after a simulated main engine shutdown and launch-pad abort as countdown clocks hit T-minus four seconds.
"The Kennedy Space Center is running at a pretty fast pace, as you can imagine, with two launches like this back to back," shuttle skipper Dom Gorie said Sunday. "They've got a great thing going; we're going to keep it going with Endeavour's launch here on March 11."
Gorie and six crewmates are scheduled to blast off about 2:30 a.m. that day on a mission to deliver the first section of the Japanese Kibo science research facility to the outpost.
The crew also is hauling up a two-armed Canadian robot that will carry out station maintenance work that otherwise would have to be done by spacewalking astronauts.
The practice countdown and emergency drill comprised the crew's last major KSC training exercise prior to launch.
The latter mimicked what an astronaut crew would do in the event of a fire, explosion, hazardous gas leak or other emergency at the launch pad.
NASA's twin shuttle launch pads each are equipped with a slidewire system that would whisk astronauts in metal baskets down to a bunker on the far western edge of the complex.
The crew checked out the baskets but did not ride them to the ground. NASA safety officials deem that an unnecessary risk.
The astronauts flew to Houston on Monday afternoon. They'll report back to KSC on March 7. The real launch countdown begins the next day.
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