The seven shuttle astronauts preparing to rocket toward the international space station with a new Japanese laboratory this month arrived at NASA's Florida spaceport Tuesday for launch day practice.
Commanded by veteran NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, the astronauts are gearing up for a planned May 31 launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery to deliver Japan's tour bus-sized Kibo module, the largest room built for the station.
"Discovery looks really good from what we can see," Kelly said after flying over the shuttle's seaside launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. "It's great to see the vehicle at the pad."
NASA hauled Discovery to its Pad 39A launch site at Kennedy Space Center early Saturday as engineers prepare the spacecraft for a 13-day mission to the space station.
Kelly and his crewmates arrived at the launch site today by 4:12 p.m. ET, swooping down in NASA's T-38 jets for a traditional three-day training exercise that precedes every shuttle mission. The session is dubbed the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test.
Training alongside Kelly are shuttle pilot Ken Ham and mission specialists Karen Nyberg, Mike Fossum, Ron Garan, Greg Chamitoff and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who is representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that built the Kibo lab.
"We just need to have this same weather when we launch on the 31st of May," Garan said from the sunny tarmac.
Over the next few days, the astronauts will try on their bright orange launch and entry pressure suits, inspect the 37-foot-long Kibo module inside Discovery's cargo hold and speak with reporters from Pad 39A before capping the trip with a launch day dress rehearsal and emergency escape drill.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the Kibo module in the payload bay," Hoshide told reporters.
Discovery's STS-124 mission will mark NASA's third shuttle flight of the year dedicated to hauling a new room to the space station, with Kibo's main module following a smaller storage room and Europe's new Columbus lab. Five of the shuttle's seven astronauts are making the first spaceflight of their careers with the mission.
"As we were flying over here, I'm looking at the two (launch) pads and I don't know which one the orbiter's on," joked Ham, a U.S. Navy commander who chalked it up to his rookie status, though the word "rookie" has been off limits during training. "So I flew right between them until I found it."
"I have to admit that I did the same thing," said Garan, who is also making his first spaceflight, with a smile. "But we found it."