The U.S. space agency said today that the countdown to the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday evening is "progressing smoothly" -- while its crew asked the American public for their support of the work astronauts do in space.
Now scheduled for a 6:40 pm (EDT) lift-off, after a delay to adjust a leaky pressure valve pushed the mission back 24 hours, the flight known as STS-118 will set its sights on delivering a third starboard-side mechanical truss to the International Space Station (ISS). It will also carry a teacher into space, in the first attempt to successfully carry out the ill-fated quest of educator Christa McAuliffe, who perished in the failure of the Challenger orbiter in January 1986.
Earlier today, NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding said, "Work continues to go well. At this point, we are on schedule and are tracking no significant issues."
STS-118 will be the first flight for Endeavour since 2002 and the 22nd shuttle flight to the ISS overall. It will also be the first mission for Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan, the teacher-turned-astronaut whose association with NASA began more than 20 years ago, according to the space agency. Morgan served as the crew backup to McAuliffe in the original Teacher in Space Project begun in 1985. She has been in training as an astronaut candidate off and on ever since (becoming a full-time NASA employee in 1998). Only now has NASA determined that conditions are favorable to resume the educational project.
The STS-118 mission of the Endeavour will be helmed by Commander Scott J. Kelly (USN). In addition to Kelly and Morgan (who taught elementary school earlier in her career) the crew consists of: Lt. Col. Charles O. Hobaugh (USMC); Richard A. Mastracchio (NASA); Dr. Dave Williams (Canadian Space Agency); Tracy E. Caldwell; and Benjamin Alvin Drew.
At a press conference on Saturday, Morgan said, "It's great to be here. We thank everybody, and we especially thank my colleagues in education all across the country."
Rookie mission specialist Caldwell added: "None of this would be possible without the support of the American people. Because of that we are truly grateful and forever indebted. Take pride in ownership, because this program belongs to you."