Discovery crew reviews emergency procedures, straps in for practice countdown

The Discovery astronauts head for the launch pad to strap in for a practice countdown. Left to right: Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, Timothy Kopra, Alvin Drew, pilot Eric Boe and commander Steven Lindsey. (Photo: NASA)
CBS News

The shuttle Discovery's six-member crew worked through a dress-rehearsal countdown aboard the shuttle Discovery Friday, setting the stage for launch Nov. 1 on a space station assembly mission. It will be Discovery's 39th and final flight.

"It's bittersweet, you've probably heard that a lot," commander Steven Lindsey told reporters at the launch pad Thursday. "Discovery's a workhorse, the fleet leader in number of flights, done a lot of famous flights, all the return-to-flight test missions. Yet when you walk inside Discovery, it still looks like a new car even after almost 30 years of service. It's a great machine, a great vehicle.

"For us, it's a privilege to be able to fly that last flight on Discovery but it's also sad because after that, it's retired. I just hope that when it goes to the Smithsonian (Air and Space Museum) that it's laid out in a way such that the public can actually go through it and see and get a feeling for what it was really like to fly it. That's something that'll always be in our memories."

Wearing bright orange pressure suits, Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and spacewalkers Timothy Kopra and Al Drew began strapping in shortly before 8:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 GMT) for the final two-and-a-half hours of a simulated countdown. All six astronauts are spaceflight veterans and three of them -- Barratt, Kopra and Stott -- have logged long-duration flights aboard the space station.

Earlier this week, the astronauts reviewed launch pad emergency procedures, all part of a traditional three-day terminal countdown demonstration test, or TCDT. Lindsey and his crewmates planned to fly back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Friday afternoon for final preparations. If all goes well, they will return to Florida Oct. 28, the day before their countdown begins.

Discovery's processing has proceeded smoothly since roll out to pad 39A Sept. 21. Senior NASA managers plan to attend an executive-level flight readiness review Tuesday to set an official launch date. As of this writing, Discovery is targeted for liftoff at 4:40:20 p.m. (20:40:20 GMT) Nov. 1, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the launch pad into the plane of the space station's orbit.

The primary goals of the 133rd shuttle mission are to deliver and install a pressurized module loaded with supplies and equipment, including an experimental robot known as Robonaut 2, and to attach a spare parts pallet to the space station's power truss. The permanent multi-purpose logistics module, or PMM, eventually will serve as a much-needed storeroom, giving station crews a place to house equipment, trash and other gear after the shuttle fleet is retired.

Assuming an on-time launch, Discovery will dock with the International Space Station around 1:30 p.m. Nov. 3. Two midday spacewalks are planned, one on Nov. 5 and the other on Nov. 7. Undocking is planned for Nov. 10 with landing back at the Kennedy Space Center around 10:40 a.m. on Nov. 12.

Discovery's launch campaign comes amid massive layoffs by shuttle prime contractor United Space Alliance as NASA moves into the program's final three missions. But Stott, who began her NASA career as a shuttle engineer at Kennedy, said morale remains positive and the crew has no increased concerns for safety.

"It's certainly going to be a sad time," she said. "We've already seen quite a few people walk out the door. We've had the chance to come down here and visit several times throughout our training flow and I think what impresses me the most is the spirit that is here with these people. And it's been here forever. This is definitely one of those places where people come to work because it's a heart-and-soul thing, it's not just a job for them.

"And you see that in every aspect of the work that goes on here," she said. "We are truly thankful for that. It gives us confidence in the vehicle and the workforce and the mission that we're going to fly, we know that we'll have success because of them."

The Discovery astronauts take questions from reporters at pad 39A. (Photo: CBS News/William Harwood)

Commander Steven Lindsey and his crewmates pose in an armored personnel carrier stationed near the launch pad for emergency use. (Photo: NASA)

The astronauts review the operation of launch pad emergency escape slidewire baskets. (Photo: NASA)

The astronauts in the "white room" at pad 39A. (Photo: NASA)

The Discovery crew reviews procedures for an emergency exit from the launch pad in slidewire baskets. (Photo: NASA)

Nicole Stott, foreground, and Michael Barratt seated on the shuttle Discovery's lower deck during a practice countdown Friday. (Photo: NASA)