Space Shuttle Discovery in Good Shape for May Launch

Space Shuttle Discovery in Good Shape for May Launch
The seven-astronaut crew of the shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission discuss their flight at Launch Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 8, 2008. They are, from left: commander Mark Kelly, pilot Ken Ham, mission specialists Karen Nyberg, Ron Garan, Mike Fossum, Akihiko Hoshide of Japan, and Greg Chamitoff. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA's shuttle Discovery is on track to ferry seven astronauts and a large Japanese laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS) later this month.

Shuttlecommander Mark Kelly told reporters Thursday that Discovery?s preparations are going extremelysmoothly for its planned May 31 launch from NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in CapeCanaveral, Fla.

?From whatI was told yesterday, the condition of the orbiter and the number of problemswe?ve had with it have been at a historic low,? Kelly said from Discovery?s seasidePad 39A launch site. ?So that makes us feel really good.?

Kelly andhis STS-124 astronaut crew are in the final weeks of preparation for theirplanned 13-day mission to the ISS, where they will deliver Japan?s massive37-foot (11-meter) Kibo laboratory during three spacewalks.

The astronautsare currently at NASA?s Florida spaceport for a three-day training session to practicelaunchand escape procedures, as well as practice donning their bright orangepressure suits for liftoff and landing. They will stage a dress rehearsal of theirfinal hours before launch on Friday and cap the training simulation with anemergency escape drill.

?We?ve gota little bit of training and a little bit of practice to go,? Discovery missionspecialist Mike Fossum said this week. ?We?ll be ready to take off in a fewweeks.?

Accordingto the United Space Alliance, NASA?s shuttle contractor, engineers have tackledonly 40 glitches with Discovery - the fewest ever in the entire 27-year history ofshuttle flight - in their bid to ready the orbiter for its late May liftoff. The second-lowest number of issues - 76 in all - occurredin April 2001 as engineers were again preparing Discovery for flight, USAofficials said.

"Thereason the shuttle has fewer maintenance issues is a lot of hard work thathas gone into making the hardware, processes, and software better along with alittle bit of luck,? said Mark Nappi, USA?s program manager for groundoperations, in a statement. ?We are seeing it across the board on all processing.?

Discovery?sSTS-124 mission will mark NASA?s third shuttle flight of the year dedicated to hauling a new orbital room to the high-flying spacestation. The shuttle Atlantis delivered Europe?sColumbus laboratory to the station in February and was followed by theEndeavour orbiter carrying an attic-likestorage room for Japan?s Kibo lab.

NASA now hopesto launch a total of five shuttle flights this year, which include four stationconstruction flights and a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. A plannedsixth flight, slated for flight in December, has been pushed to early 2009 dueto fuel tank delivery delays, mission managers have said.


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.