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NASA Discusses Launch Plan for Space Shuttle Discovery

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)

NASAengineers and mission managers are expected to set a firm May launch date todayfor the shuttle Discovery and a massive Japanese laboratory bound for theInternational Space Station (ISS).

Discoveryand its seven-astronaut crew are scheduled to launch toward the space stationon May 31 from NASA?s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Fla., todeliver Japan?s tour bus-sized Kibolaboratory module during a planned 14-day mission.

?Processing-wise,things are going very well,? NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel, of KSC, told

Shuttlemission managers are convening in a traditional Flight Readiness Review to determinewhether Discovery is ready for its planned 5:02 p.m. EDT (2102 GMT) liftoff onMay 31. They are expected to announce their decision in a press briefing later thisafternoon.

?They?refully into their discussions,? Beutel said. ?Now we?re hoping for a May 31launch date.?

Commandedby veteran spaceflyer Mark Kelly, Discovery?sSTS-124 astronauts plan to perform three spacewalks to deliver the 37-foot(11-meter) Kibo lab module and perform other station maintenance. They willalso swap out one member of the space station?s three-man crew before returningto Earth.

Since its previous launch lastOctober, Discovery has experienced the fewestproblems to date related to turning an orbiter around for its next flight,shuttle officials have said. Aside from a glitch that forced engineers to usetwo days out of their week of reserve time to replace a computer part,Discovery?s launch preparations have gone smoothly, Beutel said.

Discoverylaunch will mark NASA?s third shuttle flight dedicated to hauling new livingand laboratory space to the station this year. The space agency hopes to launchup to five shuttle missions - the most since the 2003 Columbia accident - in2008.

NASA will hold a pressbriefing no earlier than 4:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) on NASA TV to discuss today'sFlight Readiness Review meeting for Discovery?s STS-124 shuttle mission. Click here for's shuttle missioncoverage and NASA TV feed.


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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. 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 Twitter.