Space shuttle Discovery cleared for Monday launch

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

The US space shuttle Discovery has been cleared by NASA for an early Monday morning night-time launch, in one of the last flights of the space shuttle program.

On Saturday, mission managers unanimously voted to proceed with the mission after engineers ruled out any safety concerns with the shuttle's booster rockets. During off-site testing, two problems with the boosters appeared, though both were determined to have no impact if they were to occur during lift-off. According to the launch director, Pete Nickolenko, "We're on track and ready to go for Monday." The launch is expected to occur at 0621 local time (1121 UTC) Monday morning, about an hour before sunrise, and will be the 131st space shuttle mission.

The mission is planned to deliver around 10 tons of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), including both new science equipment and spare parts. The mission will have a crew of seven people, and three spacewalks will be conducted during Discovery's time at the ISS.

Discovery's mission will be one of the last flights for the space shuttle program, with only three flights remaining after Discovery's. That shuttle will undertake one more mission before the program ends. The future of American spaceflight is uncertain, as President Barack Obama recently canceled the Constellation Program, planned to be the successor to the shuttle program. Obama is scheduled to make a speech on April 15 in the Cape Canaveral area while Discovery is in orbit, outlining his plans for spaceflight after the shuttles are retired later this year.