CAPE CANAVERAL - Discoverywill move into Kennedy Space Center's massive assembly building this week,marking a key milestone in preparations for a planned July 1 launch on NASA's secondpost-Columbia shuttle mission.
Secured atop a 76-wheeltransporter, Discovery will be backed out of a nearby hangar about 8 a.m.Thursday and escorted to the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building by techniciansand engineers who have readied the orbiter for flight.
"It's always nice whenthe vehicle leaves the hangar," said KSC spokeswoman Jessica Rye.
The date and time for themove was selected after a meeting Monday. It had been plannedfor Friday; if all goes well, the move will take place 24 hours ahead ofschedule.
The short trip will cap a263-day stay in the hangar, one that began Aug. 22 after Discovery was ferriedback to KSC from Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Once in the assemblybuilding, crane operators will hoist Discovery atop a mobile launcher platformand connect it to an externaltank with two attached solid rocket boosters.
The assembled shuttleremains scheduled to roll out to launch pad 39B on May 19.
A move to the pad thenwould allow NASA to preserve two weeks of leeway in the schedule for a July1 launch. The launch window will close July 19.
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