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 SPACE.com.
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 SPACE.com's shuttle missioncoverage and NASA TV feed.
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