CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The space shuttle Discovery is looking free andclear for a launch Wednesday night.
The weather looks promising for the plannedevening launch at 9:20 p.m. EDT (0120 March 12 GMT) from NASA's KennedySpace Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., shuttle weather officer Kathy Winterssaid.
"It should be a beautiful launch,? she said. ?The weather islooking very good for launch, I'm happy to say. And of course we're going tohave that full moon, that's going to be really nice too."
Discovery?s seven-astronaut crew, led by commanderLee Archambault, will deliver a new set of solar arrays and support girderto the space station, as well as a new inhabitant to the outpost: thefirst long-duration Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Wakata, a veteran JapanAerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) flyer, is set to replace NASA astronautSandra Magnus as an Expedition 18 flight engineer, checking in for a roughlysix-month stay.
"At this point we have no real concerns," said Steve Payne,NASA test director, during a morning briefing here. "Our systems are ingood shape, the countdown is proceeding on schedule like it should be, and weare ready for the exciting mission that lies ahead of us on Wednesdaynight."
If weather does end up prohibiting launch tomorrow, mission managerssaid they are willing to try again untilMarch 16, even if it means having to cut down the planned 14-daymission. After that, the shuttle must stand down temporarily to let aRussian Soyuz craft launch toward the ISS as planned.
Discovery is on trackfor launch after a series of delays have set back the mission over concernswith fuel control valves in the shuttle's main engines. A series of in depthtests convinced mission managers that the issue, first noticed last year when avalve cracked during the shuttle Endeavour's November 2008 liftoff, does notpose a serious threat. Just to be safe, engineers replaced all three valves onDiscovery with a set found to be freeof damage.
SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-119with reporter Clara Moskowitz at Cape Canaveral and senior editor Tariq Malikin New York. Click herefor mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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