Shuttle Discovery takes first step toward final flight

The shuttle Discovery is hauled to NASA's cavernous assembly building, setting the stage for launch Nov. 1 on the orbiter's 39th and final mission.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Running a day late because of a ruptured water main, the shuttle Discovery was hauled from its processing hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building Thursday for attachment to an external tank and twin solid-fuel boosters. If all goes well, the orbiter will be moved to launch pad 39A on September 21, setting the stage for launch November 1 on a space station resupply mission.

It will be the shuttle program's 133rd flight and the 39th and final voyage of Discovery before NASA's oldest shuttle is retired and put on public display, most likely at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

The shuttle Discovery is backed out of its processing hanger for a short trip to NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building for attachment to an external tank and boosters. William Harwood

During the short "rollover" from Orbiter Processing Facility No. 3 to the cavernous VAB, the transporter carrying Discovery was parked in the open for two-and-a-half hours to give Kennedy Space Center workers a chance to pose for pictures with the orbiter as it took the first step toward its final flight.

Shuttle program managers plan to hold a two-day flight readiness review starting on October 6. Discovery's crew-- commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott, and spacewalkers Timothy Kopra and Al Drew--plans to fly to the Kennedy Space Center October 12 to review launch site emergency procedures and to participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown October 15.

Senior NASA managers plan to hold an executive-level flight readiness review October 19 to assess Discovery's processing and to set an official launch date. If that goes according to plan, Lindsey and his crewmates will fly back to Florida October 28 for the start of the shuttle's countdown the next day. As of this writing, launch is targeted for 4:40:13 p.m. EDT on November 1, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries launch complex 39 into the plane of the International Space Station's orbit.

Assuming an on-time launch, Lindsey will guide Discovery to a docking at the space station's forward port around 1 p.m. on November 3. The first of two spacewalks by Kopra and Drew is scheduled to begin around 10:35 a.m. on November 5 to install an electrical cable, stow a failed ammonia pump module, and to carry out other maintenance tasks.

The next day, the astronauts plan to attach a pressurized cargo module to the central Unity module's Earth-facing port before enjoying a bit of off-duty time and gearing up for the second spacewalk.

A few hours after the switch from daylight time to standard time in the U.S. early November 7, Kopra and Drew will begin their second spacewalk around 8:35 a.m. EST to carry out a variety of unrelated maintenance tasks.

If all goes well, Discovery will undock from the space station around 5:48 a.m. November 10 and land back at the Kennedy Space Center around 10:43 a.m. on November 12.

The shuttle Endeavour is scheduled for launch on the final currently planned shuttle mission February 26, 2011. NASA is lobbying for a third and final flight by the shuttle Atlantis next June, but it is not yet clear whether funding can be arranged in time.

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About the author

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 125 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia." You can follow his frequent status updates at the CBS News Space page.

     

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