Mock Countdown Begins for STS-114 Crew

Discovery Astronauts Look Forward to Launch
NASA's space shuttle Discovery sits atop Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center after rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on April 6, 2005. The shuttle arrived at the pad in the early hours of April 7. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - The mock countdownhas begun for NASA's first astronaut crew to ride a space shuttle into orbitsince the Columbiadisaster.

The sevenastronauts of NASA's STS-114 mission have begun a multi-day training sessionhere at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to rehearse launch operations andemergency procedures.

"Wheneverwe're ready to go, the crew's going to be ready," said veteran astronautEileen Collins, commander of the STS-114 mission, during a press conference atDiscovery's Pad 39B launch site.

A dressrehearsal of the final hours of launch, with the crew inside the Discoveryorbiter atop its launch pad, is scheduled for Wednesday morning, culminating witha mock-main engine cutoff at about 11:00 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT).

Collins andher crew are now slated to launch aboard Discovery no earlier than July 13.Last week, NASA shuttle program managers delayedthe mission past its first launch window, running from May 22 to June 3, toallow additional time to complete debris analysis, external fuel tankmodifications and other paperwork. The announcement marked the secondtime NASA officials delayed the launch in two weeks.

"We cannotfly with what we define as unacceptable risk," Collins said, who said earlierthat the decision to delay STS-114's launch was the rightcall.

NASA'sSTS-114 mission is the space agency's first attempt to resume space shuttleflights, which have been grounded since the Columbia orbiter broke up during reentry onFeb. 1, 2003, killing its seven-astronaut crew. In addition to delivering vitalsupplies to the International Space Station (ISS), the mission will also test amodified external fuel tank, as well as new tools and procedures designed toimprove shuttle safety.

"We'regoing to use [this] time for training in order to prepare even better for ourmission ... and vacation," Collins toldreporters, adding that the additional 10 weeks will allow her crew and othershuttle officials some time off. "Because of the delay, some of these folkswill be able to get a well-deserved break."

Training for flight

Collins andher STS-114 crewmates arrivedat KSC late Sunday aboard NASA's T-38 jets for their Terminal CountdownDemonstration Test (TCDT), a standard training session that precedes everyshuttle launch.

On Monday,Collins, STS-114 pilot Jim Kelly and mission specialist Stephen Robinson, whowill serve as flight engineer during the spaceflight, performed a series oftraining flights aboard NASA's shuttle training aircraft. The entire STS-114crew also took turns driving the M-113 tank, an armored personnel carrier usedby shuttle crews to escape their launch pad during an emergency.

"This is myfirst TCDT," said STS-114 lead spacewalker and mission specialist SoichiNoguchi, of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). "The highlight isyesterday, when we got to drive the tank, so we are all certified."

Noguchi andRobinson, his partner for the three spacewalks planned for STS-114, plan toconduct additional dives at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory pool to rehearsetheir extravehicular activities.

"We'regoing to use these two months wisely," he said.

The STS-114crew will report to their Discovery orbiter atop Launch Pad 39B at 7:45 a.m.EDT (1145 GMT) for the final countdown test Wednesday.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.