Space shuttle crew arrives in Florida for launch

  • World
  • Sunday, 10 Jul 2005

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Shuttle Discovery's seven astronauts flew into the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday as NASA prepared to start the countdown for its first shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster. 

The U.S. space agency has scheduled Discovery's liftoff for 3:51 p.m. (1951 GMT) on Wednesday. 

Space shuttle Discovery Commander Eileen Collins (L) and Pilot James Kelly speak after the crew arrived for Mission STS-114 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 9, 2005. The shuttle's liftoff is scheduled for July 13 on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

"It's been 2 1/2 years since a crew has stood here before you. That's way too long and it is definitely time that we went back to flight and back to space," mission specialist Andrew Thomas, 53, said shortly after the crew's plane touched down. 

Thomas and his crewmates -- commander Eileen Collins, pilot James Kelly, flight engineer Stephen Robinson, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and mission specialists Wendy Lawrence and Charles Camarda -- arrived at the Florida spaceport a day earlier than planned to avoid poor weather from Hurricane Dennis in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The last group of astronauts that lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center never returned. Shuttle Columbia was destroyed and its seven astronauts killed during a failed landing attempt. 

The shuttle had been damaged by debris at liftoff and disintegrated over Texas as superheated atmospheric gases blasted inside a breach in its wing. 

"It's humbling to be here and it's a great sense of privilege," Thomas said. "Having the responsibilities of the return-to-flight mission certainly makes me feel that sense of privilege even more." 

Added Collins, "I'm very proud of this crew and I can tell you that they are very, very prepared and very ready to fly this mission." 

The Discovery crew is scheduled to spend 12 days in space to test safety upgrades implemented in the wake of the Columbia accident and to deliver critical equipment to the International Space Station. 

The three-day countdown for Discovery's launch is slated to begin at 6 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Sunday. 

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