Shuttle Countdown Begins, Fog Could Delay Monday's Launch

This is one of the last four scheduled shuttle missions, before the shuttle program is retired.ξ NASA Test Director Steve Payne says these final trips are crucial to the completion of the International Space Station.

"This one carries a lot of the experiment racks that we have all this laboratory space awaiting for these racks, so we're gonna be taking them up.ξ And a lot of heavy-lift has to be carried up on shuttles, so we're going to be taking advantage of all that."

Payload Manager Joe Delai says, along with the science racks, Discovery will also deliver more sleeping quarters and new exercise equipment for the ISS crew.

"And of course, this will be used for research on the muscular-skeletal system to better understand the effects of micro-gravity on the muscular system."

Delai says the information gleaned from that research could one day lead to more effective treatments for osteoporosis.ξ Discovery is set to liftoff 5:21, central time, Monday morning. NASA forecasters say there's about a 20 percent chance that fog could postpone the launch to Tuesday or Wednesday.ξξ This mission is already running about two-and-a-half weeks behind schedule because of last month's cold snap in central Florida.

STS-131 Official Crew Photo

Attired in training versions of their shuttle launch and entry suits, these seven astronauts take a break from training to pose for the STS-131 crew portrait. Seated are NASA astronauts Alan Poindexter (right), commander; and James P. Dutton Jr., pilot. Pictured from the left (standing) are NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio, Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, all mission specialists. (NASA image).

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