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 credit: 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

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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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. 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. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.