Space shuttle Discovery is set to make one last trip to the launch pad late Monday (Sept. 20) to gear up for its final mission as NASA moves closer to retiring its orbiter fleet for good.
The shuttle is slated to begin the hours-long launch pad trek at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) tonight at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Hundreds of NASA workers and their families are expected to be on hand to watch the shuttle's move.
"It's a small way to give back to the people who have given so much to the space shuttle program over the years," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told SPACE.com. "It's also a way for people to show their families all their hard work. This is where they've been spending all the hours of their time."
Kennedy Space Center workers and their families will have the opportunity to take pictures of Discovery, as the shuttle rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building during the short trip to the seaside Launch Pad 39A. Astronauts from Houston will also be present to answer questions from the crowd.
"A lot of these people have worked on the shuttle program for years but have never had the chance to take a picture in front of it," Beutel said.
The shuttle received a similar reception on Sept. 9, when NASA moved the orbiter from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building to be attached to its external tank and twin solid rocket boosters.
Discovery is scheduled to launch Nov. 1 on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station that will mark the spacecraft's final trip to space. The mission, STS-133, will be Discovery's 39th spaceflight and is expected to deliver a storage room to the International Space Station along with a humanoid robot assistant for the outpost's astronaut crew.
NASA will retire the three remaining shuttles in its fleet Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour next year to make way for a new plan aimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid by 2025. Discovery is the oldest of NASA's space shuttles.
Only two more shuttle missions are currently scheduled, including Discovery's November flight, before the reusable orbiter is retired. The shuttle Endeavour is slated to fly the final shuttle mission in February 2011.
Congress is discussing the possible addition of one extra mission to be flown by Atlantis sometime next year. The Senate has already approved the additional flight, but the measure has yet to pass through the House.
- Gallery - Shuttle Discovery's Midnight Launch
- Graphic: Inside and Out the International Space Station
- Final Countdown: A Guide to NASA's Last Space Shuttle Missions
NASA will broadcast Discovery's launch pad move live on NASA TV beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Click here for a link to SPACE.com's NASA TV feed and shuttle mission updates.