Discovery Shuttle Astronauts Arrive at NASA Spaceport

Discovery Shuttle Astronauts Arrive at NASA Spaceport
The seven STS-116 crew members are all smiles as they gather near the runway after arriving Sunday at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. Image (Image credit: NASA TV.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - The astronaut crew of NASA's next shuttlemission arrived here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) late Sunday, flyingin aboard white and blue T-38 training jets.

The seven-memberSTS-116 crew was greeted by veteran astronaut Jerry Ross and Mike Leinbach, NASA'slaunch director for the upcoming space shot. The astronauts' family membersalso welcomed their Florida spaceport arrival.

"Itwas a beautiful flight out...I'm very, very excited to be here," themission's shuttle pilot, WilliamOefelein, said at NASA's KSC Shuttle Landing Facility. "We sevencertainly are very ready to go and we're looking forward to executing a greatmission."

Theastronauts are slatedto launch aboard NASA's shuttleDiscovery on a 12-day construction flight the International SpaceStation (ISS) on Dec. 7 at 9:35:47 p.m. EST (0235:47 GMT). The plannedliftoff will mark NASA's third shuttle mission this year and the agency's firstnight launch since 2002.

"We'regoing to go ahead and hopefully have one heck of a night show to give everybodythis Thursday night," Discovery's STS-116 commander MarkPolansky said.

The missionwill include the delivery of a newportside piece of the ISS and a trio of spacewalks to rewirethe outpost's power grid. It will also include the swapof Expedition14 crewmember SunitaWilliams for European Space Agency astronaut ThomasReiter, who is finishing up a nearly six-month stint aboard the orbitallaboratory.

"I'mjust really happy to be here. It's been a long time coming," Williams said,adding that she's spoken with her Expedition 14 crewmate-to-be Mikhail"Misha" Tyurin. "Misha Tyurin called the other day and said 'Suni,we're waiting for you!', so I just can't wait to get to my new home."

STS-116 missionspecialists and multilingual crewmembers NicholasPatrick and ChristerFuglesang--Sweden's first astronaut to fly--added a few words in Spanish andSwedish, respectively.

Not to beoutdone, Alaskan native Oefelein added a few words in his state's officiallanguage: English. "I'll start by saying a few words in Alaskan--It's warmout here," he said.

Mission specialist RobertCurbeam turned the attention away from his fellow astronauts.

"Thisis a tribute to the guys that got our vehicle ready, to get all of us ready aswell, for our 12 day trip and Suni's six month trip," Curbeam said."We appreciate it and thank all of them...Also thanks to our family andfriends and coaches and relatives for all the years of motivating us to do ourbest. We hope to make all those people who helped get us here proud."

For missionspecialist JoanHigginbotham, the flight to KSC was a return home of sorts.

"I'mvery happy to be here...I actually began my career here at Kennedy Space Center," she said. "To finally come back as an astronaut and get to work and fly onthe vehicle that I used to work on is absolutely beyond words.

"WhenI got out the plane, Mike said to me 'That's a megawatt smile,' and that's howI feel," Higginbotham added. "I'm not going to wipe this grin off myface until December 19 when we land and I'm sure you'll still have a hard timewiping it off my face."

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Staff Writer

Ker Than is a science writer and children's book author who joined as a Staff Writer from 2005 to 2007. Ker covered astronomy and human spaceflight while at, including space shuttle launches, and has authored three science books for kids about earthquakes, stars and black holes. Ker's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Nature News, New Scientist and Sky & Telescope, among others. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Irvine and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University. Ker is currently the Director of Science Communications at Stanford University.