NASA pronounced Discovery ready to fly. NASA crews began fueling Discovery for liftoff Wednesday afternoon on the first space shuttle flight in 2 1/2 years. A short setback caused fears that the launch would be postponed again, but the problem was soon resolved.
A temporary window cover fell off the shuttle and damaged thermal tiles near the tail Tuesday afternoon. The problem was announced just two hours after NASA declared Discovery ready to return the nation to space for the first time since the Columbia disaster.
The mishap was an eerie reminder of the very thing that doomed Columbia - damage to the spaceship's fragile thermal shield.
Now the only possible obstacle appeared to be thunderstorms in the forecast, believes the AP.
Discovery and its crew of seven were set to blast off at 3:51 p.m. EDT (1951 GMT) on a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).
Fueling of the external tank, originally set to begin before sunrise, began more than an hour late after workers changed a part on a launch-pad heater. Tanking of Discovery's large orange external tank with 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen began at 7:11 a.m. NASA officials said the swapping out of the part wasn't expected to affect the launch time.
The families of the Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-107 in a statement published on NASA’s website expressed their “support for the STS-114 crew and all the dedication and talent of those who supported this Return to Flight effort.”
The husband of Discovery commander Eileen Collins said Wednesday that his wife expressed having "some butterflies" when they talked the night before.
"Anytime you're an astronaut, you run a risk," Pat Youngs told The Associated Press. "But from all I've seen, from management, engineers ... support personnel and the astronauts themselves, there is a lot of hard work to right things and get back to spaceflight." It will be Collins' fourth shuttle flight.
Former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, who was in charge of the space agency during the Columbia disaster, called Discovery's launch a "seminal moment."
Discovery will be setting off on the 114th space shuttle flight in 24 years with a redesigned external fuel tank and nearly 50 other improvements made in the wake of the Columbia tragedy.
Discovery Shuttle will finally relieve the ISS of bulky equipment and scientific containers, which were accumulated there during the 2.5-year moratorium on shuttle flights.