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Astronauts head for final flight aboard Discover

posted 24 Feb 2011, 11:40 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 24 Feb 2011, 11:42 ]

Shuttle Discovery's six-member crew readies for one final ride into orbit aboard the ship that NASA plans to retire this year as it phases out its shuttle program.

Astronauts prepared for lift-off aboard the Shuttle Discovery that will make its final voyage into space at 4:50 pm EST (2150 GMT) on Thursday (February 24) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The five-man, one-woman crew includes commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, spacewalkers Bowen and Alvin Drew, along with Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.

NASA attempted to launch Discovery on November 5, but was stymied by a leak in a hydrogen vent line.

Later, an unrelated and far more serious problem surfaced with support beams inside the fuel tank.

The delay launching Discovery cost the crew its lead spacewalker, Tim Kopra, who was injured in a bicycle accident last month. He was replaced by Stephen Bowen

Dressed in their orange launch-and-entry suits, the crew waved to cheering onlookers as they headed out to the launch pad to board the ship for its 39th mission.

The astronauts are scheduled to spend 11 days in orbit.

The flight will be the last for Discovery, the first of three shuttles NASA plans to retire this year as it phases out its shuttle program.