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Discovery's last crew arrives for launch

The six astronauts who will fly on space shuttle Discovery during its historic final flight arrive at their Florida launch site for the planned Monday launch.
Image: Discovery crew
The shuttle Discovery's crew arrives at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From left are Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra, Alvin Drew, pilot Eric Boe and commander Steve Lindsey.NASA
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The six astronauts who will fly on space shuttle Discovery during its historic final flight have arrived at their Florida launch site for the planned Monday launch, after a slight delay due to an aircraft glitch.

Discovery commander Steve Lindsey and four of his crewmates began landing their NASA T-38 jets here at Kennedy Space Center at about 3 p.m. ET. A plane swap for the sixth crew member, mission specialist Alvin Drew, delayed his arrival by an hour.

"Its great to be down here what an exciting week," Lindsey told reporters who had gathered for the crew's arrival. "Hopefully, weather permitting, all goes well and we'll have a nice Nov. 1 on-time launch. We're looking forward to it."

On its 11-day mission, Discovery will haul critical spare parts to the International Space Station, including a storage room and a humanoid robot to assist the crew of the orbiting laboratory. It will be the 39th and last space voyage for Discovery before NASA retires is shuttle fleet next year.

Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialists Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Tim Kopra flew in on three of NASA's supersonic T-38 training jets from Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Drew's arrival was delayed about an hour, after issues with his T-38 aircraft forced him to return to Houston to switch planes. He touched down at the Florida spaceport at approximately 4 p.m. ET.

A grateful crew
Lindsey expressed gratitude to the teams at Kennedy Space Center who, just last weekend, completed a speedy repair on two leaky seals that were found on Discovery's fuel line.

"They did a fantastic job getting the vehicle ready for us," Lindsey said.

The STS-133 crew is scheduled to launch to the space station at 4:40 p.m. ET Monday.

The six veteran spacefliers who will navigate Discovery on its final journey landed their T-38 training vehicles on the same 3-mile-long runway where Discovery's wheels will roll to a stop for the last time at the conclusion of its coming mission. [Gallery: Shuttle Discovery's Last Launch Pad Trip]

Launch day looms
In the remaining days before launch, the astronauts will remain in medical quarantine a standard precaution to prevent illness before the mission. They will also spend the next several days reviewing mission details and completing last-minute training exercises.

The official countdown for Discovery's launch begins Friday at 3 p.m. ET.

Discovery's final flight will be NASA's 133rd shuttle mission. The space agency is due to bring its 30-year space shuttle program to a close in 2011.

NASA is retiring the three remaining shuttles in its fleet — Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — to make way for a new plan aimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid and Mars. Discovery is the oldest of NASA's space shuttles.

President Obama recently signed a major NASA act that turns his vision for U.S. space exploration into law. The NASA authorization act scraps the space agency's previous moon-oriented goal and paves the way for a manned mission to an asteroid by 2025. A manned mission to Mars or its moons is envisioned for sometime in the 2030s.

The bill also calls for a budget of $19 billion for NASA in 2011, the addition of one extra space shuttle flight before the fleet retires for good, and the extension of the International Space Station through at least 2020.

Follow Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow as she covers Discovery's final space voyage from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Click here for mission updates, new stories and a link to NASA's live webcast coverage.