The countdown clock is ticking away for Space Shuttle Discovery.
After nearly three decades of service, Space Shuttle Discovery will launch into space carrying human astronauts one last time for 11 days before being retired under direction of President Obama.
After cracks developed in its fuel tank November of last year, everything is looking good for a takeoff time around 4:50pm.
NASA launch director Mike Leinbach:
“I think the weather’s going to be good,” Leinbach said Thursday morning. “It’s a machine so you never know until the final seconds on the clock if all pieces of the machine are going to behave. But right now, it feels good.”
“What will be most difficult will be on landing day when we know that that’s the end of her mission completely,” he said.
“She’s been an amazing machine,” Leinbach said Wednesday. “She’s done everything we’ve asked of her.”
Cracks in the fuel tank could have sent the shuttle crashing back down to the earth in flames, but this time, no cracks were found.
This will be the 39th flight for Discovery. If it lands back on Earth safely, it will be retired to a museum. The name of the last shuttle flight mission for Discovery is STS-133.
It has logged 143 million miles since its first flight in 1984.
“The heavens await Discovery,” one church proclaimed, as recreational vehicles lined up along the Cape Canaveral coast to watch the historic final blast off. Grocery stores stocked up on red, white and blue cakes with shuttle pictures.
Discovery will also carry a humanoid robot, Robonaut 2, or R2, the first robot to go into space.
Under direction from President Obama, NASA will have to ground the shuttle operations, and focus on transporting humans to asteroids and Mars. This has sparked heated controversy over allowing other nations to get ahead of the U.S. in the space race in orbit above earth, and has brewed disagreement about private companies launching people into space.
“Godspeed Discovery,” retired space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said in a Twitter update Thursday. “Prayers for a safe flight and wisdom for decision makers.”