NASA's shuttle Endeavour is poised to rocket into space this evening carrying six spaceflyers and teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan towards the International Space Station (ISS).
The space shuttle and its STS-118 crew are set to launch spaceward at 6:36 p.m. EDT (2236 GMT), with weather forecasts promising an 80 percent chance of favorable liftoff conditions.
"It looks like we have a very good vehicle on the pad," said NASA's launch integration manager LeRoy Cain. "The crew is ready. The team is ready."
In addition to Morgan, Endeavour will ferry shuttle commander Scott Kelly, pilot Charlie Hobaugh and mission specialists Tracy Caldwell, Rick Mastracchio, Alvin Drew, Jr. and Dave Williams - of the Canadian Space Agency - towards the ISS, reports Space.com
According to Belfast Telegraph, Barbara Morgan is set to become the second American teacher to fly aboard a shuttle. She's also the biggest asset the troubled US space programme has right now.
Seventeen years later, Morgan was flying over the Florida touchdown site in the shuttle training craft, listening to the chatter between mission control and the Columbia flight deck, knowing that the next time that shuttle flew, she was to be aboard. At first, when the radio link lapsed, she didn't worry; black-outs are common during re-entry. But by the time her plane landed at the Kennedy Space Center, there was no doubt. As 40 tons of shuttle wreckage rained on Texas , she found herself again running to console the spouses and children of another group of close friends.
Months later, you could hear the strain in her voice: " I don't have a whole lot to say about it, except it was horrible. More than anything, it's really, really sad."
During the Endeavour mission, she will help to operate the robot arm as it transfers a strut and a storage platform to the space station and will co-ordinate the unloading of 5,000lb of cargo. She'll also be on the flight deck to assist with re-entry.
On the scientific side, she's responsible for 10m basil seeds, some of which will be left on the station in growth chambers, while the rest are returned to schools on Earth for hands-on experimentation. She will, however, hold at least one teleconference with pupils in America , more if attempts to power the shuttle from the ISS's solar cells work and the mission is lengthened by three days.
Morgan hasn't lost her enthusiasm for the classroom: "I'm doing the job of an astronaut with the eyes, ears, heart and mind of a teacher," she said.
According to AP, with good weather predicted for launch time, NASA started fueling space shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday in preparation for its evening liftoff.
The space agency began pumping more than 500,000 gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the ship's tank shortly after 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) The process was expected to take about three hours, leaving plenty of time before the scheduled 6:36 p.m. (2236 GMT) launch, which will take former schoolteacher Barbara Morgan into space.
Forecasters predicted an 80 percent chance that the weather will be favorable for liftoff.