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Shuttle Astronauts Arrive at Florida Spaceport

Shuttle Crew Arrives at NASA Spaceport for Training
After their arrival at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility the STS-119 crew members head across the tarmac to greet the media for a question and answer session. Photo (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The sevenastronauts set to launch into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery thisweek arrived at NASA?s Florida spaceport Sunday after weeks of delay.

Led byshuttle commander Lee Archambault, the astronauts landed their T-38 jets on arunway at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where they planto launchtoward the International Space Station Wednesday night at 9:20 p.m. EDT(0120 ?March 12 GMT).

?We?reready to get going,? Archambault said from the runway after his crew?safternoon arrival, which was broadcast live on NASA TV.

Archambaultand his crew are poised to launch on a two-weekconstruction mission to deliver the final segment of the space station?sbackbone-like main truss and install the outpost?s last pair of U.S.-builtsolar arrays. Four spacewalks are planned for the mission.

Initiallyslated to launch on Feb. 12, Discovery?s STS-119 mission has been delayedseveral times due to concerns with the spacecraft?s three vital fuelcontrol valves, which keep part of its attached external tank properly pressurizedduring liftoff.

NASAengineers replaced the valves twice and spent weeks analyzing them after asimilar valve on the shuttle Endeavour cracked during its November 2008 launch.Endeavour reached orbit without incident, but NASA wanted to be sure the valvesaboard Discovery were safe to fly.

Top missionmanagers announced Friday that Discovery was fit for its planned 14-day spacestation flight, the first of several construction missions scheduled for 2009.NASA?s final shuttle flight to overhaulthe Hubble Space Telescope is also due to launch this May.

In additionto the new space station segment and solar wings, Discovery's crew will also set toferry Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata to the orbiting laboratory. Wakata, aveteran spaceflyer for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will replaceNASA astronaut Sandra Magnus as a member of the space station?s currentthree-person Expedition 18 crew.

Magnus haslived aboard the space station since last November and is due to return aboardDiscovery. Wakata is Japan?s first long-duration astronaut and will stay aboardthe station until his replacement arrives in June.

?I?mexcited to stay onboard the space station for a little while,? Wakata said.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. 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 Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.