Shuttle Astronauts Prepare for Launch Practice

Shuttle Astronauts Prepare for Launch Practice
The STS-124 crew lines up on the runway after arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From left are Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, Pilot Ken Ham, Mission Specialist Karen Nyberg, Commander Mark Kelly, and Mission Specialists Ron Garan, Michael Fossum and Akihiko Hoshide, who represents Japan. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

The sevenshuttle astronauts preparing to rocket toward the International Space Station(ISS) with a new Japanese laboratory this month arrived at NASA?s Floridaspaceport Tuesday for launch day practice.

Commandedby veteran NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, the astronauts are gearing up for a plannedMay 31 launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery to deliver Japan?s tourbus-sized Kibo module, the largest room built for the station.

?Discoverylooks really good from what we can see,? Kelly said after flying over theshuttle?s seaside launch pad at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in CapeCanaveral, Fla. ?It?s great to see the vehicle at the pad.?

NASA hauledDiscovery to its Pad 39A launch site at KSC early Saturday as engineers preparethe spacecraft for a 13-day mission to the space station.

Kelly andhis crewmates arrived at the launch site today by 4:12 p.m. EDT (2012 GMT),swooping down in NASA?s T-38 jets for a traditional three-day training exercisethat precedes every shuttle mission. The session is dubbed the TerminalCountdown Demonstration Test.

Trainingalongside Kelly are shuttle pilot Ken Ham and mission specialists Karen Nyberg,Mike Fossum, Ron Garan, Greg Chamitoff and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide,who is representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that builtthe Kibo lab.

?We justneed to have this same weather when we launch on the 31st of May,? Garan saidfrom the sunny tarmac.

Over thenext few days, the astronauts will try on their bright orange launch and entrypressure suits, inspect the 37-foot-long (11-meter) Kibo module insideDiscovery?s cargo hold and speak with reporters from their Pad 39A beforecapping the trip with a launch day dress rehearsal and emergencyescape drill.

?I?mlooking forward to seeing the Kibo module in the payload bay,? Hoshide toldreporters.

Discovery?sSTS-124 mission will mark NASA?s third shuttle flight of the year dedicated tohauling a new room to the space station, with Kibo?s main module following a smallerstorage room and Europe?s newColumbus lab. Five of the shuttle?s seven astronauts are making the firstspaceflight of their careers with the mission.

?As wewere flying over here, I?m looking at the two [launch] pads and I don?t knowwhich one the orbiter?s on,? joked Ham, a U.S. Navy commander who chalked it upto his rookie status, though the word ?rookie? has been off limits duringtraining. ?So I flew right between them until I found it.?

?I have to admit that I did the same thing,? said Garan, who is also making hisfirst spaceflight, with a smile. ?But we found it.?


Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

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.