Shuttle Astronauts Rehearse Launch Day

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)

The crew of the space shuttle Discovery successfully completeda dress rehearsal today for their upcoming launch. They capped off their practice runat Cape Canaveral with a simulated countdown to liftoff at 11:00 a.m. EDT.

The seven STS-124astronauts are scheduled to launch May 31 at 5:02 p.m. EDT to deliver the InternationalSpace Station's largest room, the 32,500-pound Japanese Kibo Laboratory. Crewmembersare slated to perform three spacewalks during their planned 13-day mission.

"This is a big moment in our training to actually gothrough a real terminal countdown," Discovery's commander Mark Kelly toldreporters Thursday. "In this case it's a test, but we do everything thatwe'd do on launch day."

The crew began to don their orange launch and re-entry spacesuitsat Kennedy Space Center (KSC)'s launch pad39A ?around 8:15 a.m. EDT this morning.

They climbed into the orbiter and ran through the launchprocedures that will take place during the real event, short of fueling up andactually taking off.

The crewmembers, including shuttle pilot Ken Ham, missionspecialists Karen Nyberg, Mike Fossum, Ron Garan, Greg Chamitoff and JapanAerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, arrived at KSCon Tuesday.

Yesterday, the astronauts practiced the escapeprocedures they would use if they had to evacuate the shuttle in the case of an emergency. They rehearsed climbing into and out of the baskets thatwould zip them quickly away from the launch pad (though they did not actuallyride them down, because NASA administrators deem this too much of an unnecessaryrisk).

Today's practice countdown was the last scheduled trainingexercise at Cape Canaveral until the STS 124 flight. Later at 2:00 p.m. EDT the astronauts will head back to Houston to resume preparing forthe mission. They plan to arrive back in Florida on May 28.

"We're excited to be here," Kelly said Thursday."We look forward to getting back in about three weeks from now."

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.