- Associated Press - Friday, November 5, 2010

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - NASA fueled space shuttle Discovery on Friday for its last journey into orbit with a futuristic robot in tow after a week of dealing with technical problems and waiting out stormy weather.

Wind was still a concern for the 3:04 p.m. scheduled liftoff. But at least the countdown was finally past the six-hour mark.

The six shuttle astronauts were eager to get going. So was their robotic crew member, Robonaut or R2. It is the first humanoid robot destined for space and is meant to assist space station crews, following lengthy testing in weightlessness.

“I’m going to space!” Robonaut’s Twitter account exclaimed Friday morning. “I want our launch to be safe, so I don’t mind delays. Besides, I’ve been in a box since Aug. What’s a few more days?”

Before sunrise, the launch team began filling Discovery’s massive fuel tank following a brief delay necessitated by extra work at the pad.

It’s the closest NASA has come to sending Discovery and a veteran crew of six to the space station for this mission, along with a load of supplies.

“Go Discovery,” echoed from the firing room. The same words resounded up at the International Space Station, where six astronauts eagerly awaited the shuttle’s arrival.

“The Space Shuttle Discovery awaits release on her final voyage. We’ll be watching closely,” station commander Douglas Wheelock wrote in a Twitter update. “Go Discovery! We’ll leave the light on for you!”

Friday was a special day for another reason: It was the 48th birthday of Discovery astronaut Benjamin Alvin Drew Jr.

Thursday’s launch attempt was thwarted by stormy weather. The cold front quickly moved through. Early Friday, forecasters said there was a 70 percent chance that conditions would be acceptable, better than before. But wind remained a lingering concern.

Three previous delays were caused by gas leaks and a sluggish circuit breaker. Monday was the original launch date.

This would be the 39th and final flight of Discovery, NASA’s oldest and most traveled shuttle. Discovery’s prime caretaker in orbit will be commander Steven Lindsey, a former chief of the astronaut corps who’s made four previous shuttle trips. The 11-day mission will feature two spacewalks.

Over 26 years, Discovery has traveled 143 million miles and spent 352 days in space. Among its more memorable missions: delivering the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit in 1990 and returning John Glenn to orbit in 1998. This will be its 13th docking to the International Space Station.

The space agency will close out its 30-year-old shuttle program next year. Endeavour is set to soar at the end of February. Atlantis may make one extra flight next summer, but Washington has yet to provide the money for it.

The White House has instructed NASA to shift its focus from launching astronauts into orbit, to sending them to asteroids and Mars. Given the budget limitations, the space agency can achieve that only by giving up the costly shuttle program.

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