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Space Shuttle Discovery Moves to Launch Pad

Space Shuttle Discovery Moves to Launch Pad
Access platforms at Launch Pad 39A are moved into position against Space Shuttle Discovery. Discovery arrived at its seaside launch pad and was hard down at 6:06 a.m. EDT on May 3. (Image credit: NASA/Troy Cryder)

The spaceshuttle Discovery rolled out to its Florida launch pad early Saturday as NASA preparesto launch a massive Japanese laboratory later this month.

Commandedby veteran astronaut Mark Kelly, Discovery?s seven-astronaut crew is set tolaunch May 31 from NASA?s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Fla., todeliver Japan?sKibo module, the largest laboratory planned for the International SpaceStation (ISS).

?We?rereally excited to be within 30 days [of liftoff],? Kelly told reporters thisweek. ?We?re looking forward to the next three weeks of training and then the launch.?

Kelly andhis STS-124 crew plan to perform three spacewalks to install and outfit the 37-foot(11-meter) long Kibo during their 13-dayconstruction mission. They will also move the tour bus-sized ?Kibo?s attic-likestorage module from a temporary perch at the ISS to the main module duringthe flight.

Shuttleengineers hauled Discovery and its attached external fuel tank and rocketboosters to their Launch Pad 39A launch site at KSC at about 6:06 a.m. EDT (1006GMT). The move actually started late Friday at about 11:47 p.m. EDT (0347 GMT),when Discovery began the slow 3.4-mile (5.4-km) trek to the launch pad atopNASA?s massive crawler transporter vehicle.

?Everythinghas been going extremely well,? said NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel of KSC.

Discovery?slaunch preparations have gone so smoothly that shuttle workers have a full sevendays of cushion time, where none existed earlier, to handle any unforeseenglitches, Beutel told SPACE.com.

Kelly andhis STS-124 crew plan to head to KSC next week to rehearse launch dayactivities aboard Discovery. Their spaceflight will mark NASA?s third shuttlemission of up to five planned for the year.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the Space.com team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. 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. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.