The six-astronaut crew of space shuttle Discovery's final mission arrived at NASA's Florida spaceport yesterday (Oct. 12) for several days of training, including a complete dress rehearsal for their upcoming launch.
The astronauts will spend the next few days at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral to prepare for the last launch of Discovery on Nov. 1.
"It's really exciting to be down here, we haven't done one of these in nearly six months," said Discovery commander Steve Lindsey. "It's good to be back here with the Kennedy Space Center team and get an opportunity to work with them again. Our training is pretty much done, for the most part. We're ready to fly. Just a few more weeks of things for us to do and we'll be ready to go."
Over the course this week, the crewmembers will delve into in-depth training sessions, meet with news media, and then conduct a full launch day run-through aboard the space shuttle on Friday morning (Oct. 15). The practice launch is called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT. [Photos: Discovery's Launch Pad Trip]
The crew is slated to launch on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station. On its final spaceflight, space shuttle Discovery will take important spare parts to the space station, including a storage room and a humanoid robot helper to assist the crew of the orbiting outpost.
Lindsey and his crewmembers, pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialists Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott, Alvin Drew and Tim Kopra, flew to Kennedy from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston aboard the space agency's T-38 jets. The white, supersonic aircraft are used by astronauts to maintain their aerial skills between missions.
NASA will retire the three remaining shuttles in its fleet ? Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour ? next year to make way for a new plan aimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid and Mars. Discovery is the oldest of NASA's space shuttles.
On Monday (Oct. 11), President Barack Obama signed a major NASA act that turns his vision for U.S. space exploration into law. The NASA authorization act scraps the space agency's previous moon-oriented goal and paves the way for a manned mission to an asteroid by 2025. A manned mission to Mars is envisioned for some time in the 2030s.
The bill also calls for a budget of $19 billion for NASA in 2011, adding one extra space shuttle flight before the fleet retires next year, and the extension of the International Space Station through at least 2020.
- Gallery: Shuttle Discovery's Last Launch Pad Trip
- POLL: What Do You Think About NASA's New Direction?
- Voices: Experts and Analysts Weigh In On NASA's New Direction