Image: STS-126 crew
NASA/Kim Shiflett
The STS-126 crew members eagerly exit the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to practice launch day activities for their Nov. 14, 2008 blast off.
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updated 10/29/2008 3:25:06 PM ET 2008-10-29T19:25:06

The seven-astronaut crew of NASA's shuttle Endeavour strapped into their spacecraft Wednesday for a dress rehearsal of their planned November launch toward the international space station.

Clad in bright orange launch and entry suits, Endeavour's STS-126 crew climbed inside the shuttle to practice for a planned Nov. 14 blast off, then scrambled out of the spacecraft in an emergency escape drill atop NASA's Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, agency officials said.

"The training really is very important," said Endeavour shuttle pilot Eric Boe, a first-time spaceflyer, Tuesday from the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Fla. "For three of us, this is the first chance we've had to actually get into a vehicle while it's on the pad."

The launch practice is part of NASA's traditional preflight Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test for shuttle astronauts. NASA mission managers are expected to meet Thursday to discuss Endeavour's status and set an official launch date for the spaceflight.

Commanded by veteran spaceflyer Chris Ferguson, Endeavour astronauts plan to ferry a new crewmember, life support and gym equipment, closet-like bedrooms, a spare kitchen and a second bathroom to the space station during their 15-day mission. Four spacewalks are planned during the flight to clean and grease up a balky solar array joint on the station's starboard side.

"We're turning the space station from a three-bedroom, one-bath outpost into a five-bedroom, two-bath orbiting laboratory from which we can conduct science for the years to come," Ferguson said Tuesday. "It'll also have a gym, and for the first time we're also going to have a small refrigerator. So as far as crew amenities are concerned, I'd like to think that this mission is extremely important."

By the end of the spaceflight, Ferguson and his crew hope to leave the space station ready to double its current three-person crews. The first six-person crew is slated to take up residence aboard the station next year.

Joining Ferguson and Boe aboard Endeavour will be mission specialists Don Petit, Steve Bowen, Heidi Stefanyshyn-Piper, Shane Kimbrough and Sandra Magnus. Boe, Bowen and Kimbrough will make their first spaceflight during the mission. Magnus, meanwhile, will replace NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff as a member of the station's current Expedition 18 crew.

Chamitoff joined the station crew in June and will return aboard Endeavour, while Magnus will await her replacement's arrival early next year.

"We've been anxious to get to a six-person crew for a very long time," Magnus said. "And this mission's the first stepping stone toward that."

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