NASA Clears Space Shuttle Discovery for Final Launch on Wednesday

Shuttle Discovery's Gas Leaks Repaired In Time for Wednesday Launch
The space shuttle Discovery and its STS-133 crew will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module, packed with supplies and critical spare parts, as well as Robonaut 2, the dexterous humanoid astronaut helper, to the International Space Station. The launch attempt on Wed., Nov. 3 was delayed, however. (Image credit: NASA/Troy Cryder)

This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. ET.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? NASA has cleared the space shuttleDiscovery for one final launch into space on Wednesday (Nov. 3), aftercompleting some last-minute repairs to plug minor gas leaks on the historicorbiter.

Discovery's mission managers met here at NASA's KennedySpace Center this morning (Nov. 1), and voted unanimously to clearthe space shuttle for launch. Liftoff is set for 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT)on Wednesday.

"[The meeting] went very quickly," Mike Moses,NASA's shuttle integration manager, told reporters in a news briefing today."We didn't have any technical issues to discuss. Heading into count, therewere no problems whatsoever."

The final launch of Discovery was initially slated to launchNov. 1, but the flight was delayed two days due to leaky helium and nitrogenseals in the aft engine section last week. Moses praised shuttle technicianshere at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, who were able fix the problem in time forWednesday's launch attempt.

"They held together beautifully ? they performedoutstanding work all weekend long," he said.

Today shuttle technicians began loading Discovery withcryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to feed the spacecraft's fuelcells, which generate the vehicle's power during flight. [Gallery:Building Space Shuttle Discovery]

Current weather forecasts call for a 70 percent chance ofacceptable conditions in the area on launch day. For the time being, the onlymajor weather threats are low clouds and a chance of isolated showers near thelaunch pad.

If Wednesday's launch is delayed further, however, weatherissues could become more of a concern, said Kathy Winters, NASA's shuttleweather officer.

A weather front pushing down intoparts of central Florida that could prohibit launch due to showers and eventhunderstorms in the area, she explained. Under these circumstances, forecastscurrently estimate a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions if NASAofficials were to delay the launch by 24 hours.

Discovery is set to launch on an 11-day mission to theInternational Space Station. The orbiter will haul critical spare parts to thespace station, including a storage room and a humanoidrobot to assist the crew of the orbiting laboratory.

The journey will be Discovery's 39th and final mission intospace beforebeing retired along with the rest of the shuttle fleet next year.

"There's still a certain amount of disbelief that it'sher last launch," said Mike Leinbach, NASA's shuttle launch director."After having Discovery and the rest of the fleet for 30 years, flying sowell for America ? it's difficult to accept emotionally, but rationally we knowit's the right thing."

Discovery'sfinal flight will be NASA's 133rd shuttle mission. NASA plans to shut downits 30-year space shuttle program in 2011 to make way for a new space plan thatrelies more heavily on commercial spacecraft, and has an ultimate aim ofsending astronauts to visit an asteroid and Mars.

Follow Staff Writer Denise Chow onTwitter @denisechow asshe covers Discovery's final space voyage from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Click here formission updates, new stories and a link to NASA's live webcast coverage.

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Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.