CAPECANAVERAL - The first of six planned space shuttle missions in 2009 kicks offin earnest this week with Discovery's placement on a launch platform.
Kennedy Space Centerworkers early Wednesday are scheduled to roll the orbiter a quarter mile fromits processing hangar to the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building.
During a weeklong staythere, the spaceship will be connected to an external tank and twin solidrocket boosters already stacked on a mobile launcher platform.
"This is the startingpoint for all of our shuttle launches," said KSC spokesman Allard Beutel."That means the orbiter is a step away from the launch pad."
Discovery is slated toblast off Feb. 12 on a 14-day mission to install the International SpaceStation's final pair of power-generating solar wings.
The shuttle will haul the11th and final piece of the station's central backbone, a 31,000-pound trusssegment from which two 115-foot solar arrays will be unfurled.
The truss is expected to beloaded in a canister for transportation to launch pad 39A on Sunday.
On Jan. 14, Discovery isdue to roll out from the assembly building to the seaside launch pad.
The shuttle will use theexternal tank and boosters from which Atlantis was removed after its mission toservicethe Hubble Space Telescope was postponed last fall. That mission, theyear's second, is tentatively targeted for mid-May.
Discovery's flight will bethe orbiter's 36th, 125th by a space shuttle and 28th shuttle mission to thespace station.
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Publishedunder license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2009 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion ofthis material may be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDATODAY.
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James Dean is a former space reporter at Florida Today, covering Florida's Space Coast through 2019. His writing for Space.com, from 2008 to 2011, mainly concerned NASA shuttle launches, but more recently at Florida Today he has covered SpaceX, NASA's Delta IV rocket, and the Israeli moon lander Beresheet.