Discovery counts down to final space voyage

Discovery is readying for its final mission Wednesday, the launch was delayed twice.

Washington: Discovery, the oldest space
shuttle in NASA`s fleet, is readying for its final mission
Wednesday following repairs to leaks in a pressurization
system that has twice delayed the launch.

"Work is on schedule. We completed flight
pressurization and all went well. That is behind us now,"
Steve Payne, NASA test director, told reporters as the
countdown to launch kicked off at 2:00 pm (2330IST) yesterday.

The mission, initially scheduled for today, was
postponed so Kennedy Space Center technicians could repair
quick-disconnect fittings in the system used to pressurize one
of Discovery`s orbital manoeuvring rocket engines.

Discovery and its six American astronauts will now
launch from Florida`s Kennedy Space Center at 3:52 pm
Wednesday bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

The weather forecast remains 70 per cent for
favourable conditions, Kathy Winters, Cape Canaveral`s senior
meteorologist, said at a press briefing, adding that there
were slight concerns of possible rain and clouds in the
launch area.

The flight to the orbiting ISS is the fourth and final
shuttle flight of the year, and the last scheduled for
Discovery, the oldest in the three-shuttle fleet that is being
retired in 2011.

Discovery has been the busiest shuttle in history,
with a record 38 trips into space since its first launch in
1984. According to NASA, it has travelled over 228 million
kilometers during that time, involving 5,628 orbits of the
Earth over 351 days.

NASA has long relied on the Discovery spacecraft at
key points along its 26-year career -- the launch of the
Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, the first ever female shuttle
pilot Eileen Collins in 1995, and in 1998 it carried US space
icon John Glenn to become the oldest human to fly in space at
age 77.

Its all-American crew on this voyage, including female
mission specialist Nicole Stott, will deliver a pressurized
logistics module called Leonardo, which will be permanently
attached to the space station to give it more storage space.

The shuttle will also bring Robonaut 2, the first
human-like robot in space, and a permanent addition to the
orbiting space station, as well as spare parts.

Two space walks, for maintenance work and component
installation, are scheduled.

The three US shuttles -- the other two are Atlantis
and Endeavour -- are due to be sent off to become museum
pieces after a final shuttle mission to the space station in
late February.

Bureau Report