- Colorado judge strikes voter-backed gay marriage ban, but issues stay
- Brooklyn Bridge flag-swapping suspects identified by nickname
- Christian woman in Sudan spared for apostasy flies to Italy
- Iraq: 60 dead in attack on prisoner convoy
- Marco Rubio: U.S. at social, moral crossroads
- ‘We’re coming for you, Barack Obama’: Top U.S. official discloses threat from ISIL
- White flags baffle NYPD: ‘We’re lucky it wasn’t a bomb’
- N.Y. Gov. Cuomo’s office interfered with, pressured corruption commission: report
- Brit lawmaker: I would fire on Israel if I lived in Gaza
- VA apologizes to forgotten Marine veteran locked in Fla. clinic, forced to call 911
Astronauts board shuttle Discovery for last flight
Question of the Day
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - NASA’s most traveled space shuttle, Discovery, was fueled Thursday for its final voyage after nearly three decades of service.
The six astronauts for the space station delivery mission headed to the launch pad in early afternoon, waving and smiling to the massive picture-taking crowd at crew quarters. Once at the pad, they paused at the base of the pad to gaze up at Discovery and embraced in a group hug, before getting on board.
The crew never made it this far before; November’s launch attempt ended midway through fueling.
Launch director Mike Leinbach said everything finally seemed to be coming together. Even the weather was looking up: the forecast improved to 90 percent “go” for the 4:50 p.m. liftoff.
“I think the weather’s going to be good,” Leinbach said Thursday morning. “It’s a machine so you never know until the final seconds on the clock if all pieces of the machine are going to behave. But right now, it feels good.”
This time, no hydrogen gas seeped out during fueling. NASA also was confident no cracks would develop in the external fuel tank; final checks uncovered nothing serious, although pictures still were being analyzed. Both problems cropped up during the initial countdown in November, and the repairs took almost four months. The cracks in the midsection of the tank, which holds instruments but no fuel, could have been dangerous.
Discovery will head to the International Space Station with the crew, as well as a load of supplies and a humanoid robot.
This will be the 39th flight for Discovery, set to become the first of the three surviving space shuttles to be retired this year and sent to a museum. It has since logged 143 million miles since its first flight in 1984.
Atlantis is set to soar in April and Endeavour at the end of June.
An estimated 40,000 guests were gathering for Discovery’s farewell launch; a small contingent from Congress was among the expected VIPs. Watching with special interest from Mission Control in Houston should be astronaut Timothy Kopra, who was supposed to be the flight’s lead spacewalker. He was hurt in a bicycle crash last month and was replaced by Stephen Bowen, who will become the first astronaut to fly back-to-back shuttle missions.
Well before dawn, recreational vehicles already lined nearby roads offering the best views of liftoff. By early afternoon, the routes leading to Kennedy Space Center were jammed. Signs outside businesses and government offices in the neighboring towns of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach offered words of encouragement. “The heavens await Discovery,” one church proclaimed. Local grocery stores stocked up on extra red, white and blue cakes adorned with shuttle pictures. Camera batteries flew off shelves.
Leinbach noted that it would be “tough” to see Discovery soar one last time. “What will be most difficult will be on landing day when we know that that’s the end of her mission completely,” he said.
Discovery will spend 11 days in orbit _ on top of the 352 days it’s already spent circling the planet _ and will rack up another 4.5 million miles.
Its list of achievements include delivering the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, carrying the first Russian cosmonaut to launch on a U.S. spaceship, returning Mercury astronaut John Glenn to orbit, and bringing shuttle flights back to life after the Challenger and Columbia accidents.
“She’s been an amazing machine,” Leinbach said Wednesday. “She’s done everything we’ve asked of her.”
TWT Video Picks
The subsidies are a hit with patients who don't exist
- Obama orders Pentagon advisers to Ukraine
- House task force to recommend National Guard on border, faster deportations
- EDITORIAL: Poor Hillary, rock-star wannabe
- Netanyahu's Wikipedia page replaced with giant Palestinian flag
- Hamas rejects Kerry's call for cease-fire; Hezbollah in Syria could join fight against Israel
- Hamas orders civilians to die in Israeli airstrikes
- Democratic Sen. John Walsh plagiarized War College master's thesis: report
- CARSON: Costco and the perils of mixing politics and business
- FIELDS: A tale of a boy, a Bible and a gun
- 'We're coming for you, Barack Obama': Top U.S. official discloses threat from ISIL terrorists
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq