NASA begins launch countdown for Discovery

By Xinhua

Washington : The launch countdown for US space shuttle Discovery has begun, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said.

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The countdown began officially at 2 p.m. local time (18.00 GMT) Saturday for a scheduled lift off on Oct 23.

NASA managers overseeing the launch preparations for the STS-120 mission said Saturday that space shuttle Discovery is ready for two weeks in space. “All of our systems are in good shape,” NASA test director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said.

The Italian-built Harmony module that Discovery is carrying to the International Space Station (ISS) is also in good shape, payload manager Glenn Chin said. The new station segment weighs more than 31,000 pounds and will serve as a connecting point for laboratory modules from NASA and the European and Japanese space agencies.

NASA’s weather officer Kathy Winters pointed to some concerns that rain showers and clouds could interfere with Discovery’s launch. She said there is a 60 percent chance of favourable weather at launch time.

Discovery’s crew of seven astronauts arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Friday. They have been going through final checklists and preparations of their own for Tuesday’s planned lift off.

Crewmembers Pam Melroy and George Zamka flew simulated space shuttle landings early Saturday morning aboard a Gulfstream business jet modified to mimic the flight characteristics of a gliding shuttle.

If all goes well, Discovery is expected to complete its mission and return home on Nov 6.