Space Shuttle Discovery Reaches Launch Pad: NASA

NASA readies the space shuttle Discovery for its scheduled launch on Feb. 24.

The space shuttle Discovery reached Launch Pad 39A following its 3.4 mile trek on the crawler-transporter from the Vehicle Assembly Building, NASA reported, noting the first motion began Jan. 31. The space agency reported the rotating service structure was closed around Discovery the morning of Feb. 1, and technicians are currently working on connecting the ground umbilical carrier plate (GUCP). Leak checks are scheduled for Feb. 4, while the shuttle was powered up the morning of Feb. 1 as part of the initial check out of systems. The launch is currently scheduled for Feb. 24.

At NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Discovery's STS-133 astronauts are reviewing photo and TV operations before Commander Steve Lindsey and Pilot Eric Boe conduct Shuttle Training Aircraft training runs around the White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crewmembers will take important spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS) along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4.

The space agency also reported Steve Bowen has replaced Tim Kopra as Mission Specialist 2 following a bicycle injury on Jan. 15 that prohibited Kopra from supporting the launch window. Bowen last flew on Atlantis in May 2010 as part of the STS-132 crew. Flying on the STS-133 mission will make Bowen the first astronaut ever to fly on consecutive missions, according to information released by NASA.

In other NASA news, astronaut Rick Sturckow will serve as a backup commander for the STS-134 space shuttle mission to facilitate continued training for the crew and support teams during mission commander Mark Kelly's absence. Kelly's wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was critically wounded in a shooting on Jan. 8 in Tucson, Ariz. Kelly remains commander of the mission, which is targeted for launch on April 19 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Space Shuttle Program baselined the STS-135 mission for a target launch date of June 28. It is NASA's intent to fly the mission with orbiter Atlantis carrying the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the ISS. The mission also will fly a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and return a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.

In late December, the agency's Space Operations Mission Directorate requested the shuttle and ISS programs take the necessary steps to maintain the capability to fly Atlantis on the STS-135 mission. The Authorization Act of 2010 directs NASA to conduct the mission, and baselining the flight enables the program to begin preparations for the mission. The operation would be the 135th and final space shuttle flight.

Last week the space agency paid tribute to astronauts who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration, with President Barack Obama and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden marking a day of remembrance for the astronauts lost in the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia disasters. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the loss of the Challenger shuttle and its crew, which disintegrated shortly after launch when a booster engine failed. The accident claimed the lives of all seven crewmembers, including Christa McAuliffe, the first candidate for NASA's Teacher in Space program.