NASA Clears Space Shuttle Discovery for Final Launch on Wednesday
This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. ET.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? NASA has cleared the space shuttle Discovery for one final launch into space on Wednesday (Nov. 3), after completing some last-minute repairs to plug minor gas leaks on the historic orbiter.
Discovery's mission managers met here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center this morning (Nov. 1), and voted unanimously to clear the space shuttle for launch. Liftoff is set for 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT) on Wednesday.
"[The meeting] went very quickly," Mike Moses, NASA's shuttle integration manager, told reporters in a news briefing today. "We didn't have any technical issues to discuss. Heading into count, there were no problems whatsoever."
The final launch of Discovery was initially slated to launch Nov. 1, but the flight was delayed two days due to leaky helium and nitrogen seals in the aft engine section last week. Moses praised shuttle technicians here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, who were able fix the problem in time for Wednesday's launch attempt.
"They held together beautifully ? they performed outstanding work all weekend long," he said.
Today shuttle technicians began loading Discovery with cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to feed the spacecraft's fuel cells, which generate the vehicle's power during flight. [Gallery: Building Space Shuttle Discovery]
Current weather forecasts call for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions in the area on launch day. For the time being, the only major weather threats are low clouds and a chance of isolated showers near the launch pad.
If Wednesday's launch is delayed further, however, weather issues could become more of a concern, said Kathy Winters, NASA's shuttle weather officer.
A weather front pushing down into parts of central Florida that could prohibit launch due to showers and even thunderstorms in the area, she explained. Under these circumstances, forecasts currently estimate a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions if NASA officials were to delay the launch by 24 hours.
Discovery is set to launch on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station. The orbiter will haul critical spare parts to the space station, including a storage room and a humanoid robot to assist the crew of the orbiting laboratory.
The journey will be Discovery's 39th and final mission into space before being retired along with the rest of the shuttle fleet next year.
"There's still a certain amount of disbelief that it's her last launch," said Mike Leinbach, NASA's shuttle launch director. "After having Discovery and the rest of the fleet for 30 years, flying so well for America ? it's difficult to accept emotionally, but rationally we know it's the right thing."
Discovery's final flight will be NASA's 133rd shuttle mission. NASA plans to shut down its 30-year space shuttle program in 2011 to make way for a new space plan that relies more heavily on commercial spacecraft, and has an ultimate aim of sending astronauts to visit an asteroid and Mars.
- Gallery: The Construction of Space Shuttle Discovery
- Video ? Space Shuttle Discovery: A Retrospective, Part 2, Part 3
- Space Shuttle Discovery's Retirement Plan in Limbo
Follow SPACE.com Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow as she covers Discovery's final space voyage from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Click here for mission updates, new stories and a link to NASA's live webcast coverage.
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