Launch Countdown Underway for NASA's Shuttle Discovery

Launch Countdown Underway for NASA's Shuttle Discovery
The countdown is underway to launch NASA's space shuttle Discovery on the STS-116 construction flight to the International Space Station (ISS). (Image credit: NASA TV.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - The clock is ticking for NASA's shuttleDiscovery as launch controllers began counting down towards the spacecraft'splanned Dec. 7 launch late Monday.

NASAcontrollers reported to their consoles in Firing Room 4 at the Launch Control Center here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 10:30 p.m. EST(0330 Dec. 5 GMT) today and countdown clock began ticking towards liftoff 30minutes later.

"Five,four, three, two, one, and the clock is rolling," said NASA commentatorBruce Buckingham. "Countdown has begun for NASA's first night time launchin four years."

Discoveryis slated to blast off on Thursday, Dec. 7 at 9:35:47 p.m. EST (0235:47 Dec. 8GMT). The T-43 hour countdown includes 27 hours, 36 minutes of built-in holdtime.

Current weatherforecasts predict a 80 percent chance that launch will proceed as scheduled,although there are some concerns of low clouds and isolated showers.

Thefive-man, two-woman STS-116crew flewinto KSC from Houston yesterday afternoon. In these final days leading upto the launch, they will be performing final inspection of the hardware andtools they will use during their 12-day construction mission on the International SpaceStation (ISS).

Discoverycommander MarkPolansky and pilot WilliamOefelein are also practicing shuttle landing, said NASA spokesperson KylieClem.

"Therest of the time is studying the mission and free time," Clem told

Riding withPolansky and Oefelein will be mission specialists NicholasPatrick, RobertCurbeam, JoanHigginbotham, SunitaWilliams and ChristerFuglesang, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut who is also the firstSwede to fly in space.

The STS-116crew is tasked with rewiringthe electrical grid of the ISS and delivering a new $11million portside piece of the orbital laboratory. Williams will alsorelieve ESA astronaut ThomasReiter who has been aboard the station since July.

ISS flightcontrollers also successfully performed a 23-minuterocket burn to boost the orbital laboratory to a higher orbit Mondayafternoon in preparation for docking with the shuttle on Dec. 9. Attempts to doso last week were cut short due to an unexpected shift in the station'sorientation caused by the installation of new ISS components in September.

A failureto raise the station's orbit would have cut into the shuttle's launch window,which currently runs from Dec. 7 to 17 and possibly later if shuttle missionmanagers approve Discovery for flight over the end-of-yearrollover.

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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.