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STS-121 Astronauts Practice Launch Abort and Escape Plans

STS-121 Astronauts Practice Launch Abort and Escape Plans
The suited STS-121 crew members stride out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Launch Pad 39B for a simulated countdown. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. -  Seven astronauts aborted the launch of the spaceshuttle Discovery just seconds before a simulated liftoff Thursdayduring a dress rehearsal of their planned July 1 space shot.

A mock mainengine shutdown four seconds before "liftoff" prompted the abort and escapeexercise for the STS-121astronauts, NASA's second shuttle crew to launch since the 2003 Columbia accident, duringa two-day training session here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

"It went verywell, we had a good test," NASA KSC spokesperson Bruce Buckingham toldreporters after the training session, adding that the Discovery orbiter couldhave launched today if the simulation were real. "I would have been here onlaunch day saying we had no problems at all."

Thursday'smock countdown was part of the STS-121 crew's TerminalCountdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), a two-day activity that allowsastronaut crews to rehearse the final hours before launch alongside pad workersand flight controllers.

"Thetraining we get here is invaluable," STS-121 commander Steve Lindsey saidWednesday in a press briefing. "There's really only one other time we get toget inside the vehicle."

Shuttlecrews also inspect their spacecraft during the Crew Equipment Interface Tests (CEITs) that precede each shuttle launch. The STS-121 crew arrivedat KSC Tuesday for their TCDT training one day later than expecteddue to stormy weather. They rehearsedsome launch pad escape procedures and attending mission briefings on Wednesday.

"It's closeto the simulator...but it's a little bit different," said Lindsey, a three-timeshuttle flyer, of the TCDT training. "This is my fourth time doing it and Istill get excited."

NASA'sSTS-121 shuttle flight will mark the second post-Columbia mission after theJuly 2005 launch of the STS-114return to flight space shot. The mission, the second of two test flights tocheck orbiter inspection and repair methods, will fly to the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) on a 13-day spaceflight.

Hundreds ofNASA shuttle engineers, workers and mission managers are expected to begin atwo-day meeting at KSC Friday to pick a final launch date for the STS-121mission, Buckingham said.

Discovery'slaunch window stretches between July 1 and July 19, with another flightopportunity in late August.

A cleansimulation

Shuttleastronauts, pad close-out crews and launch controllers worked smoothly throughtoday's launch simulation, which began at about 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 GMT) when the STS-121 crewwalked out to their AstroVan in their orange flightsuits.

"We did notthrow any gremlins into the mix like we do in some of our simulations,"Buckingham said. "This was basically a clean, crisp dress rehearsal like one wedo anytime before launch."

There werea few minor glitches, associated with the simulation and not the actualcountdown, but Buckingham assured that there was no cause for concern for anactual space shot.

"It's not somethingthat would have been a problem on launch day," Buckingham said.

Lindsey andhis fellow STS-121 astronauts are expected to return to Discovery at Pad 39Blater today to survey the orbiter's payload bay. Lindsey is expected to speakwith the media Friday before he and his crewmates return to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston later that day.

"Just beingdown here and seeing the vehicle on the pad and seeing everybody reallyexcited, it makes it all seem very, very real," Lindsey said of the Discovery'supcoming launch.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. 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. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.