Endeavour Shuttle Crew Eager for Launch Test Run
The shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 crew poses for a group portrait at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after arriving for launch rehearsal activities. From left are mission specialists Shane Kimbrough and Steve Bowen, pilot Eric Boe, commander Chris Ferguson, and mission specialists Donald Pettit, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Sandra Magnus.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

Endeavour's seven crewmembers jetted into Kennedy Space Center on Sunday, less than three weeks before their planned Nov. 14 liftoff to the International Space Station.

The crew's three days of training culminate Wednesday in a launch countdown rehearsal, strapped into the shuttle in orange launch-and-entry spacesuits.

"We're glad to be here," said Chris Ferguson, the mission's commander.

Ferguson's crew stood at his side in blue flight suits: Pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Steve Bowen, Shane Kimbrough, Sandra Magnus, Donald Pettit and Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper.

Boe, Bowen and Kimbrough are rookie space flyers, while the others have flown one mission. Pettit spent more than 160 days in space as a member of the station's Expedition 6 crew in 2002-03.

The astronauts arrived from Houston by 3:45 p.m. EDT (1945 GMT) in five T-38 training jets. The flights help some astronauts maintain pilot certifications and test crewmembers' teamwork under real flight conditions.

Ferguson and Boe immediately began practicing landings in Gulfstream jets called Shuttle Training Aircraft, whose controls have been modified to simulate the shuttle's handling on sharply angled descents.

Today, the crew will learn to drive an M113 tank they would ride to safety if an emergency forced them to flee the launch pad.

In a brief address to assembled news media, Ferguson outlined the 15-day mission's top three goals.

First, he said, is to deliver Magnus to the station so she can join two Expedition 18 crewmates ferried to the station earlier this month by a Russian Soyuz vehicle. Expedition 17 astronaut Greg Chamitoff will ride home on Endeavour in her place.

Second, under Pettit's guidance, roughly 18,000 pounds of supplies and furnishings will be unloaded from the shuttle. That gear will allow the station to double its crews from three to six people.

And finally, during four spacewalks, Boe, Bowen and Stefanyshyn-Piper will clean and lubricate rotating joints that allow the station's power-generating solar arrays to track the sun.

The crew arrived for its countdown practice, known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, a little more than a month after Atlantis astronauts went through the same routine.

But that crew saw its mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope postponed until next year because of computer problems aboard the observatory.

Ferguson said Sunday's flights to Cape Canaveral through cloudless skies were a pleasure, and he hoped it boded well for Endeavour's upcoming launch.

"We hope for weather like this when we come out for the real thing," he said.

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