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Discovery set for its second-to-last launch

The weather is looking good and the crew is ready as well for what's expected to be the fourth-last launch of a space shuttle, scheduled for Monday.
Image: Space Shuttle Astronauts Arrive At KSC Ahead Of Shuttle Launch
Discovery commander Alan Poindexter addresses journalists on Thursday after he and his crewmates flew into the shuttle landing facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center aboard a Gulfstream jet.Matt Stroshane / Getty Images
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The weather is looking good for NASA's planned Monday launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

The shuttle and its seven-astronaut crew have an 80 percent chance of clear skies for their planned Monday blastoff toward the International Space Station.  Liftoff is set for 6:21 a.m. ET from a seaside launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Overall, we're looking at a great chance of good weather," shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said Thursday during in a mission briefing. "It should be a nice morning."

Only the chance of low clouds or fog pose any concern for the upcoming launch, she added.

Discovery's planned 13-day mission is one of NASA's few remaining shuttle flights before the space agency retires its aging, three-orbiter fleet later this year. Only four flights remain, including Discovery's upcoming STS-131 mission.

"We had a short flyby of the pad and saw the good ship Discovery out there, and it looks great," mission commander Alan Poindexter told reporters earlier Thursday after arriving at the launch site with his crewmates. "We're ready to go."

Poindexter commands a four-man, three-woman crew aiming to deliver more than 27,000 pounds (12,246 kilograms) of supplies, cargo and new science equipment for the space station. Three spacewalks are planned to replace a large gyroscope for attitude control and install a spare ammonia tank, among other chores.

Launching aboard Discovery with Poindexter will be shuttle pilot Jim Dutton and mission specialists Rick Mastracchio, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, Clayton Anderson and Naoko Yamazaki. Representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Yamazaki is Japan's second female astronaut.

The fact that Discovery's Monday launch will mark this shuttle's second-to-last mission was not lost on the astronauts. NASA plans to retire its three space shuttles in the fall, after nearly 30 years of service, and rely on commercial spacecraft as well as Russian capsules to launch astronauts to the space station.

"Although one day we'll all become part of the history of NASA, we're always part of its future," Anderson said.