Shuttle Astronauts Arrive at Spaceport for Saturday Launch
After arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare for space shuttle Endeavour's July 11, 2009 launch on the 29th assembly flight to the International Space Station, the STS-127 crew members pose for a final photo before leaving the Shuttle Landing Facility on July 7.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The crew of the space shuttle Endeavour arrived at NASA?s Florida spaceport on Tuesday to prepare for a planned weekend blast off after nearly a month of delays.

Shuttle commander Mark Polansky and his crew touched down at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Tuesday afternoon under a cloudy sky as they gear up for their third launch attempt in two months. Liftoff is set for 7:39 p.m. EDT (2339 GMT) on Saturday.

?I can tell you that this crew and the entire operations team are both eager and ready to get to work,? Polansky said from the tarmac in a brief televised statement. ?Hopefully the next time we talk to you will be from orbit.?

Endeavour is poised to launch on a 16-day construction marathon to the International Space Station. The shuttle?s six-man, one-woman crew plans to swap out one member of the station?s six-man crew and deliver the last piece of Japan?s massive Kibo laboratory at the orbital outpost. Five spacewalks and challenging robotic arm work using three different space cranes are also on tap.

The upcoming flight is the first shuttle mission to the space station since the outpost doubled its crew size to six people in late May. When the shuttle arrives, the station?s population will surge to 13 people - the highest ever at the orbiting lab.

Long-delayed mission

Endeavour's mission has been delayed since mid-June, when a potentially dangerous hydrogen gas leak in a fuel tank vent line thwarted two consecutive launch attempts. Engineers replaced a misaligned plate and seal on the tank and successfully checked the repairs during a fueling test last week.

Polansky thanked the hard-working NASA team that readied Endeavour for its launch attempt this weekend after his crew arrived today.

A veteran space commander, Polansky will make his third spaceflight while in charge of Endeavour?s STS-127 mission. Shuttle pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Chris Cassidy, Tom Marshburn and Tim Kopra - all rookies making their first flight - will also fly aboard Endeavour. Veteran spaceflyers Dave Wolf of NASA and Julie Payette of the Canadian Space Agency round out the crew.

Kopra will replace Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata as a member of the space station?s crew. Wakata has lived aboard the station since March and is Japan?s first long-term resident of the orbiting lab.

The station is currently home to two Russian cosmonauts and one astronaut each from the United States, Japan, Canada and Belgium. When Endeavour launches, it will be the first time two Canadians - Payette and space station flight engineer Robert Thirsk - will be in space at the same time.

Over the next few days, Endeavour astronauts will perform a series of final medical and spacesuit checks while Polansky and Hurley practice space shuttle landings using a modified NASA training aircraft.

NASA spokesperson Michael Curie said the astronauts will get their first official weather forecast for the Saturday evening launch on Wednesday. NASA plans to begin counting down toward the weekend liftoff late Wednesday at 10:00 p.m. EDT (0200 July 9 GMT), mission managers have said.

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