Shuttle Astronauts Rehearse March Launch to Space Station

Shuttle Astronauts Rehearse March Launch to Space Station
The crew of the NASA's STS-123 mission aboard shuttle Endeavour pose for a preflight protrait during launch training. They are (from left): mission specialists Rick Linnehan and Robert Behnken, pilot Gregory Johnson, commander Dominic Gorie and mission specialists Mike Foreman, Garrett Reisman and Takao Doi. (Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann.)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -Endeavour's astronauts capped a practice countdown Monday with an emergencyescape exercise, keeping NASA on track for the planned March 11 launch ofanother International Space Station construction mission.

Clad in partial-pressurelaunch-and-entry suits and space helmets with dark visors, the astronautsexited the orbiter's side hatch on the 195-foot level of its Kennedy SpaceCenter launch tower. The hurry-up came after a simulated main engine shutdownand launch-pad abort as countdown clocks hit T-minus four seconds.

It wound up a launch-daydress rehearsal that rocketed NASA toward a 20-day turnaround between shuttlemissions. Atlantis and another station assembly crew landedat KSC a week ago Wednesday.

"The Kennedy SpaceCenter is running at a pretty fast pace, as you can imagine, with two launcheslike this back to back," shuttle skipper Dom Gorie said Sunday."They've got a great thing going; we're going to keep it going withEndeavour's launch here on March 11."

Gorie and six crewmates arescheduled to blast off about 2:30 a.m. that day on a mission to deliver thefirst section of the Japanese Kibo science research facility to the outpost.

The crew also is hauling upa two-armed Canadian robot that will carry out station maintenance work thatotherwise would have to be done by spacewalking astronauts.

The practice countdown andemergency drill comprised the crew's last major KSC training exercise prior tolaunch.

The latter mimicked what anastronaut crew would do in the event of a fire, explosion, hazardous gas leakor other emergency at the launch pad.

NASA's twin shuttle launchpads each are equipped with a slidewire system that would whisk astronauts inmetal baskets down to a bunker on the far western edge of the complex.

The crew checked out thebaskets but did not ride them to the ground. NASA safety officials deem that anunnecessary risk.

The astronauts flew toHouston on Monday afternoon. They'll report back to KSC on March 7. The reallaunch countdown begins the next day.

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Aerospace Journalist

Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.