Discovery: Go for final launch

2010-11-02 07:20

Cape Canaveral - Nasa has cleared space shuttle Discovery for its final flight.

Mission managers gathered at Kennedy Space Centre on Monday morning for the traditional flight review. They voted unanimously to press toward a liftoff on Wednesday afternoon.

"There's still a certain amount of disbelief that it's really her final launch," launch director Mike Leinbach said at a news conference. "It's difficult to accept emotionally. But rationally, we all know it's coming to an end, and we need to get on with it."

For its grand finale, Discovery and a crew of six will head to the International Space Station with a load of equipment, including a humanoid robot.

It will be the 39th flight for Discovery over 26 years. A museum will be its final destination; the Smithsonian Institution gets first pick.

Extra flight

As of Monday, the forecast called for a 70% chance of favourable weather for the 15:52 (19:52 GMT) launch. But shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters cautioned that storms were expected on Thursday, and Wednesday's outlook could worsen if the bad weather arrives sooner than anticipated.

Nasa has until Sunday - possibly as late as Monday - to launch Discovery. If the oldest surviving space shuttle isn't flying by then, it will remain grounded until at least December.

Discovery was supposed to blast off on Monday, but a pair of gas leaks in the rocket ship forced a two-day postponement.

Discovery's last journey puts Nasa a step closer to wrapping up its shuttle programme and shifting its focus to rockets and spacecraft capable of carrying humans to asteroids and Mars. Only one other shuttle mission remains on the official line-up, by shuttle Endeavour next February and March.

Nasa officials would like an extra flight in mid-2011, but lawmakers have yet to fund it. Plans for Nasa's shuttle replacements also are in flux in Washington, with no firm date on when they might fly or what they might be.

Everyone at Nasa would prefer having a new rocket ship ready to fly before giving up the old.

"But the realities are that Nasa is on a fixed budget, just like most American families, and without a big infusion of cash, we can only do a couple of things at a time," said Mike Moses, chair of the prelaunch mission management team.