Preparations Being Made for Space Shuttle Discovery Launch

The Space Shuttle Discovery was moved out to the launch pad this morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as NASA makes final preparations for launching the next mission sometime early next month. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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NASA says "sometime" next month because they still haven't nailed down a launch date. Spokesman James Hartsfield says December 6th or 7th are most probable.

"But we won't set an official date till we get together at the end of this month, November, and review where we are at that point about a week or so before the launch window opens."

Hartsfield says all shuttle missions to the International Space Station are important, but this is one is super important.

"This one will basically rewire the station to bring on line the power that is generated by a new set of solar arrays that were added to the station on the last flight. All of that new power sets the stage for new laboratories that will be attached to the station next year. Those laboratories from Europe and from Japan."

Whenever Discovery is launched, NASA wants it back on the ground no later than December 31st, because they don't know if the shuttle computers can handle a year change in flight. Hartsfield says that's nothing new -- they've never flown a shuttle across a new year.

"Because the software that is on board the shuttle may do just fine going over the New Year, but there could be some patches and things we'd have to put in in order to make sure that the dates and the calendar internal to the computer was operating well. There really hasn't been a need to do that, or a desire to push that envelope."

In other words they're not sure what might happen if the shuttle is in flight at the stroke of midnight December 31st, so they won't take any chances. If it gets off the ground next month, it'll be the third shuttle flight of the year and the fourth since the Columbia disaster in 2003. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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