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Countdown Underway For Shuttle Flight

Space Shuttle Endeavour sits on on pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center 06 August 2007 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Endeavour, scheduled for lift-off 08 August 2007, the 22nd shuttle mission to the space station, will carry in its cargo bay a pressurized container with 2.7 tonnes of supplies, foodstuffs and equipment. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Jean-Louis Santini
Washington (AFP) Aug 06, 2007
NASA on Monday forecast a 70 percent chance of good weather for Wednesday's space shuttle launch, an event the US space agency hopes will help the public forget the recent stories of drunk and lovesick astronauts. The National Aeronautics and Space Agency started the countdown for the Endeavour shuttle Sunday at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 8:00 pm (2400 GMT) Sunday toward liftoff scheduled for 6:36 pm (2236 GMT) on August 8. Jeff Spaulding, NASA Test Director, said there were no outstanding problems that might stall the flight.

"At this point, we are on schedule and are tracking no significant issues," he told reporters Monday.

Cape Canaveral meteorologist Kathy Winters forecast the likelihood of good weather for Wednesday's launch window.

"Currently, there's only a 30 percent chance that isolated showers or anvil clouds could prevent launch," she said, adding that the same forecast extended to Thursday in case of a 24-hour launch delay.

NASA hopes the second shuttle flight this year will help cure a media hangover from reports of astronauts drinking on the job and the sabotage of a computer by a NASA contractor employee.

Both revelations last month -- and the case earlier this year of astronaut Lisa Nowak allegedly trying to kidnap a rival who was dating another married astronaut -- dealt a blow to the professional, disciplined image the high-profile US space agency tries to maintain.

The crew includes 55 year-old school teacher Barbara Morgan, a career elementary school teacher who first trained for a space flight two decades ago. She will carry on for Christa McAuliffe, who died when Challenger shuttle exploded shortly after lift-off in 1986, cutting short her bid to become the first teacher in space.

The team of seven astronauts, including mission commander Scott Kelly and co-pilot Charlie Hobaugh, arrived Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The mission will transport a truss section about the size of a small car, weighing 1.58 tonnes, to extend the space station to a length of 108 meters (354 feet).

The astronauts will also replace a defective gyroscope, one of four keeping the space station on an even keel, and will install a 3.3 tonne exterior stowage platform.

Endeavour, on the 22nd shuttle mission to the space station, will also carry in its cargo bay a pressurized container with 2.7 tonnes of supplies, foodstuffs and equipment.

Three spacewalks, lasting about six hours and 30 minutes each, will allow the two-astronaut teams to accomplish assembly and repair tasks during the 11-day mission.

However, NASA could prolong the mission by three days to include a fourth space walk, to prepare for installation of a boom that will allow crews to inspect the heat shields of future shuttles for damage while docked with the space station.

NASA has been leery of damage to shuttle heat shields since February 2003, when a broken thermal tile on the Columbia shuttle allowed superheated gases to enter its wing on re-entry, causing the shuttle to break up and killing its crew of seven.

The disaster put the shuttle program on hold for two-and-a-half years.

earlier related report
US astronaut set to be first teacher in space
Washington (AFP) Aug 6 - Teacher Barbara Morgan's first role in a space mission was understudying one of the astronauts killed when the shuttle Challenger exploded. Twenty-one years on, she is now set for take-off herself.

Morgan was hired when she was 34 to stand in if needed for a fellow teacher, Christa McAuliffe, in the 1986 mission which would have made McAuliffe the first teacher in space.

But the mission was cut violently short. The Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off on January 28, 1986 due to a faulty booster rocket, killing McAuliffe and Challenger's six other crew members.

Now Morgan is stepping up to the challenge, as one of five "mission specialists" on the shuttle Endeavour when it shoots off Wednesday for the International Space Station.

"I know people will be looking at this and remembering Challenger, and that's a good thing," she said in an interview released by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

"They will also be thinking about all the people -- teachers and other people -- who have been working really hard ... to carry on the work that Christa was doing. I'm happy about that."

Morgan, now 55, trained alongside McAuliffe ahead of the Challenger mission after they were chosen from thousands of teachers as "Educator Astronauts."

The job aimed to bring back insights into the world of space exploration to school children and students on Earth and boost public interest in NASA's space program.

Morgan started out as a mathematics and reading teacher at an elementary school in a native American reservation in Montana. She resumed school teaching after the Challenger disaster before starting two years of training as a NASA mission specialist in 1998.

When Endeavour lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, she will find herself on an 11-day mission to help develop the space station as a potential stepping stone to exploration of the planet Mars.

Among her duties will be operating robotic arms to unload and install new equipment and supplies on the station.

NASA hesitated for years to send another teacher on a mission after the Challenger disaster.

It was the first space catastrophe for the United States. McAuliffe's death as a crew member from a civilian background added poignancy to the Challenger disaster, witnessed by schools and households as it was broadcast live on television.

Crews used to be composed only of military test pilots, but Morgan's astronaut training at the agency makes her qualified to serve as a mission specialist alongside scientists and engineers.

In 2003, the Columbia shuttle repeated the grim fate of the Challenger. Safety was urgently reviewed after the Columbia explosion, which killed all seven crew members.

"Our kids are concerned about the risk of course, as is my husband, as anyone would be. But, they know this is important," Morgan said. "They want to fly too."

In a broadcast from the space station she is due to answer questions from school children in the western state of Idaho. "Astronauts and teachers learn and share, they discover," she said. "That's what this is all about."

McAuliffe on her mission had been due to teach classes from space, but Morgan's duties will not leave her time to do that.

"Christa was, is, and always will be our 'Teacher in Space,' our first teacher to fly" in a shuttle, Morgan said.

"She truly knew what this was all about -- not just bringing the world to her classroom, but also helping ... to show the world what teachers do."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Teacher Going Into Space 21 Years After Challenger Disaster
Washington, DC (VOA) Aug 05, 2007
Engineers with the U.S. space agency NASA are fixing a cabin leak discovered earlier this week in the space shuttle Endeavour. Officials are saying the problem will not delay the scheduled August 7 launch to the International Space Station. The historic mission will be the first for a teacher since the disastrous Challenger accident 21 years ago. VOA's Paul Sisco reports.

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