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Space Shuttle Discovery Moves Closer to Launch

Space Shuttle Discovery Moves Closer to Launch
Inside the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building, space shuttle Discovery is lifted by a sling into a vertical position before being hoisted to the mobile launch platform along side the external tank and solid rocket boosters.
(Image: © NASA.)

NASA's spaceshuttle Discovery moved a step closer toward launch Monday as engineers workedto join the orbiter with the twin rocket boosters and fuel tank that will aidits flight into space next month.

Engineers hoistedDiscovery up inside the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) today at theKennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to attach the 100-ton shuttle toits 15-story external fuel tank, said NASA spokesperson George Diller. Theorbiter rolled over to the VAB from its protective hangar Sunday afternoon.

"We'rein good shape to roll out to the launch pad on Sept. 30," Diller told SPACE.com.

Discovery'sshort trip to the VAB was delayed several days as NASA engineers replaceda leaky hydraulic seal and three others on a shock absorbing strut attachedthe orbiter's right main landing gear. The repair work went smoothly, allowingNASA to maintain the planned Oct. 23 launch target for Discovery's STS-120construction mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Shuttleworkers used four of five padding days built into Discovery's launchpreparation schedule to replace the hydraulic seals, leaving one extra dayavailable for any future issues, Diller said.

Earlierthis month, NASA engineers also completedwork to trim away internal insulation layers from four of five brackets onDiscovery's foam-covered fuel tank after an X-ray survey found cracks in theircork-like material. Similar cracks may have led to the launch debris thatdinged the underside of the shuttle Endeavour during its Aug. 8 liftoff,NASA officials have said.

Commandedby veteranNASA spaceflyer Pamela Melroy, Discovery's seven-astronaut crew willdeliver a new connecting node to the ISS that will serve as the foundation forfuture international laboratories. The astronauts will also move an older solararray segment and test shuttle heat shield repair techniques during the fivespacewalks planned during their 14-day mission.

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