After four delays in a month’s time, NASA’s Discovery shuttle will finally depart the Kennedy Space Center at 9:20 p.m. local time on Wednesday, March 11.
Discovery’s STS-119 mission will carry two new solar array wings, which will increase the station’s solar power capacity so it might support a larger crew. Launch was initially set for early February, but managers were worried following a malfunction of hydrogen control valves on the shuttle Endeavour last fall. They wanted to rule out any similar glitches on Discovery.
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Discovery’s launch date was announced following a flight readiness review earlier today. During the meeting, top NASA and contractor managers assessed the risks associated with the mission and determined the shuttle’s equipment, support systems and procedures are ready.
On the resolution of the shuttle’s flow control valve issue, John Shannon, Space Shuttle Program manager said, “This is one of those problems requiring a lot of work. It was a little premature before today. The signs were there that we were safe, but the teams went off and came up with definitive data to prove it.”
Mike Leinbach, Space Shuttle launch director, added that from a processing standpoint, the shuttle is in good shape. “It feels good to be here with a firm launch date. I saw a lot of people after the meeting and the mood is really upbeat,” he said.
The launch countdown clock will begin at the T-43 hour mark at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Also on Sunday, Discovery’s astronauts are scheduled fly from their home base in Houston, arriving in arriving in Florida by mid-afternoon.