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Posted at 11:57 AM ET, 02/23/2011

Shuttle launch set for Thursday; final NASA countdown begins

By Melissa Bell
shuttle
Space Shuttle Discovery sits on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

See the video here.

After a four-month delay, the world's most traveled rocket ship will set off into the sky for its last trip. The space agency cleared Discovery for takeoff Wednesday morning, announcing it had solved a problem caused by fuel tank cracks.

The trip to the International Space Station will mark what could be the last of three space shuttle launches under NASA. The Endeavor shuttle is set to launch in April, with Mark Kelly as commander, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's husband. The Atlantis is meant to fly in June.

Due to budgetary cuts, NASA will no longer be launching shuttles. For future space travel, the U.S. will rely on the Russian shuttle Soyuz.

Discovery will be delivering space station supplies and Robonaut, a humanoid robot -- the first ever in space. After its trip, it will take up residence at the Smithsonian In­sti­tu­tion's Air and Space Museum.

The launch is set for Thursday at 4:50 p.m. EST. (Space.com offers a primer on how to see the space launch from Florida, even if you weren't one of the lucky few to get a ticket to the event.)

"Everything is on track and going beautifully with the countdown," said Mike Moses, mission management team chair in a statement from NASA. "We're really looking forward to a very action-packed, successful mission, and everything is on track."

By Melissa Bell  | February 23, 2011; 11:57 AM ET
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Comments

It is somewhat bittersweet, this twilight of 50 years of what I hope will be the 1st era of manned space missions.

50 years of history ends in June.

A lot of reasons for ending - for a period, or very long time, America's efforts at having people in space. And we should not overlook how we decided that we were obligated to spend on endlessly mounting entitlements for parasites and gov't workers - and not on science, R&D, space, America's infrastructure.

Food stamps and free medical care for illegals? Or fix 49 structurally deficient bridges in your state. Only so much money, and the safe bridges are deemed less "morally obligated on society and gov't".

The proponents of space travel also are at fault - because their "dreams" never involved hard work on overcoming the obstacles evident back in the 60s. The worst being:

1. Nothing they created overcame the high cost of boosting mass into space.
2. They never developed a high energy power source that could be used on long missions.
3. We know that space is fundamentally hostile to Earth-evolved biological life. Nothing we did resolved the hard radiation danger, the steady loss of bone and mass in low gravity.
4. More and more as sensors, robotics, materials science, electronics, and fast communications technology blossomed since the 60s - the edge on unmanned spacecraft grew over "what men in space can do".

Rather than work the core problems, leaders in the space community instead talked glorious missions that they wanted the money spent for instead. THe space station, the tourists teachers and grade school science projects in space focus. Then the silly "man to Mars!" garbage of George Bush.

The shuttle itself is magnificent, but it is also a failed business model. It was supposed to usher in a time of low-cost flight that made for cost-effective manned missions. It didn't. So it joins the Concorde in museums.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | February 23, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

no need for tickets to see the shuttle on Florida's east coast. the launch is clearly visible from beaches and riverbanks in Indian River, Brevard and Volusia counties.
Space View Park in Titusville offers the live NASA audio feed piped in on loudspeakers, a nice perk.
join the friendly crowds and see the launch. it's unforgettable, wonderful for kids and teens esp.
come on down!

Posted by: FloridaChick | February 23, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

"And we should not overlook how we decided that we were obligated to spend on endlessly mounting entitlements for parasites and gov't workers - and not on science, R&D, space, America's infrastructure."

Who, exactly, do you think NASA's scientists and engineers work for? Last I checked, they were federal employees. So does employing rocket scientists count as spending on "endlessly mounting entititlements for ... gov't workers", or does it count as spending on "science, R&D, and space"?

Posted by: MichaelWaters | February 24, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

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