NASA Confirms December 7 Launch For Shuttle Discovery

NASA Confirms December 7 Launch For Shuttle Discovery

(spacedaily) - NASA will launch the shuttle Discovery on December 7 on a 12-day mission as the US space agency presses on with construction of the International Space Station, officials said Wednesday. Conditions permitting, Discovery will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 9:35 pm (0235 GMT Friday), NASA officials in charge of the mission said at a news conference seen on NASA's television network, reports Trend.

The seven-member crew will include Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency, who will be making his first spaceflight.

The December 7 liftoff will be the third and final shuttle launch of the year and the fourth since the Columbia disaster in 2003 that killed seven astronauts, grounding NASA's three remaining shuttles for more than two years.

After this latest Discovery mission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is planning 13 more shuttle flights to complete the International Space Station (ISS) by 2010, when the fleet is to be retired.

The December 7 flight will be the first night launch since late 2002.

The three launches after the Columbia tragedy -- August 2005, and July and September this year -- were scheduled during daylight so that cameras on the ground and on the shuttle could take images of the spacecraft's exterior tank and any pieces of thermal insulation or ice that might break off in the first minutes of liftoff.

It was just such a piece of insulating foam that damaged Columbia's heat-protecting shield shortly after launch, causing the shuttle to disintegrate upon re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.

"There was no dissent opinion for a night launch," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, said at the news conference.

The space agency has a launch window for Discovery until December 17, with the next window opening in mid-January 2007.

Discovery will transport a new 11-million-dollar truss segment for the ISS that will be installed during a spacewalk.

Two other spacewalks are planned to rewire the space station, switching the temporary electricity system to a permanent one.

NASA confirmed the December 7 launch date after a two-day mission review.

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