Astronauts Rehearse Space Shuttle Launch

Astronauts Rehearse Space Shuttle Launch
In the White Room on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, STS-119 Mission Specialist Richard Arnold (foreground) is helped by the Closeout Crew to put on his harness during TCDT training on Jan. 21, 2009. (Image credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph, Kevin O'Connell, Tom Farrar.)

The sevenastronauts set to blast off aboard NASA?s space shuttle Discovery next monthclimbed aboard their spacecraft Wednesday for a launch dress rehearsal thatended in a mock emergency escape.

Clad inbright orange pressure suits, shuttle commander Lee Archambault and his STS-119crew strapped into their seats aboard Discovery for the traditional preflightreview at NASA?s seaside Pad 39A launch site at the Kennedy Space Center inCape Canaveral, Fla. The astronauts are due tolaunch Feb. 12 to deliver new solar arrays to the International SpaceStation.

?This isreally the culmination of our training, when we get the chance to come out herefor a few days,? Archambault told reporters Monday after he and his crew arrivedat the Florida spaceport from Houston, Texas. ?We did a nice pad flyby onour way in. It?s beautiful to see Discovery out on the pad.?

Archambaultand his STS-119 crewmates spend several days going through NASA?s traditionalTerminal Countdown Demonstration Test. The astronauts got a chance to examineDiscovery and its solar array cargo, as well as practice driving NASA?s M-113turret-less tank. Archambault and pilot Tony Antonelli also practiced landing at the nearbyShuttle Landing Facility using an aircraft modified to perform like a returningspace shuttle.

Thetraining session precedes everyshuttle mission to give astronauts the opportunity to get a hands-on lookat their actual spacecraft and practice emergency launch pad escape plans bysimulating a launch abort just before 11:00 a.m. EST (1600 GMT). During a reallaunch pad emergency, astronauts would zip away from Pad 39A in zip linebaskets, then use the tank to drive out to a safe distance.

?They?resafely out of the shuttle,? NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told SPACE.comfrom the spaceport today. ?The simulation went just fine.?

Discovery?sSTS-119 astronauts were due to head back to NASA?s Johnson Space Center in Houstonthis afternoon to complete their last few weeks of prelaunch training.Meanwhile, engineers at the Kennedy Space Center shut Discovery?s payload baydoors today for what?s expected to be the final time before the spacecraft?splanned Feb. 12 launch at 7:32 a.m. EST (1232 GMT).

NASAshuttle program managers began a preliminary two-day meeting today to discuss Discovery?sreadiness for launch. A full Flight Readiness Review is scheduled for Feb.3, when top NASA officials are expected to set an official Feb. 12 launch datefor the mission.

Beutel saidthat shuttle workers installed Discovery?s cargo - the last pair of U.S. builtsolar wings and their attached Starboard-6 truss segment - last weekend. Todate, the shuttle is in fine shape for its February launch, he added.

?Right now,there?s nothing hardware-wise or crew-wise that would affect plans for thelaunch next month,? Beutel said, adding that the number of glitches withDiscovery have been extremely low.

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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.