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EDITIONS

Discovery a true shuttle on next mission

In the first row, from the left, Sergei Krikalev, William Shepherd and Yuri Gidzenko. In the second row, from the left, James Voss, James Kelly, Yury Usachev, James Wetherbee and Susan Helms. In the rear row, from the left, Andrew Thomas Paul Richards.
In the first row, from the left, Sergei Krikalev, William Shepherd and Yuri Gidzenko. In the second row, from the left, James Voss, James Kelly, Yury Usachev, James Wetherbee and Susan Helms. In the rear row, from the left, Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards.  

In this story:

Saying goodbye to Mir

Heavy homecoming

Experiments for Destiny

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas -- Discovery will earn its name as a shuttle when it lifts off March 8 on a mission to international space station Alpha, said commander James Wetherbee.

"This is the first time in 103 flights the shuttle will live up to its name and will shuttle people back and forth," said Wetherbee in a news conference Tuesday.

Discovery is scheduled for launch at 6:42 a.m. EST from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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In addition to Wetherbee, the crew will include pilot Jim Kelly and mission specialists Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards.

Discovery also will carry the second crew for space station Alpha -- Russian commander Yury Usachev and flight engineers James Voss and Susan Helms, both U.S. astronauts.

At the end of its almost 12-day flight, Discovery will bring home the first station crew, U.S. commander Bill Shepherd, pilot Yuri Gidzenko and flight engineer Sergei Krikalev. The three crew members have spent more than four months in orbit aboard Alpha.

Saying goodbye to Mir

Usachev, who will become the first Russian commander of the international space station, also spent a year aboard the Russian space station Mir, which is slated to drop out of orbit and fall to Earth during Discovery's mission.

Usachev said he was saddened by Mir's impending doom.

"It will be the worst day when Mir comes (down)," he said. "I spent the best time of my life (on Mir)."

Usachev said that without the knowledge and experience gained from Mir, there might not be an international space station.

"I'm sure a lot of people, cosmonauts, share the same feeling," Usachev said.

Thomas, the last American to fly on Mir, also reminisced about the station.

"I really enjoyed my time on the Mir space station. It was a really good experience," said Thomas.

Heavy homecoming

Thomas said that life while working on a space station can be hectic, life in orbit is a great way to escape some of the more mundane chores on Earth.

"You can cast off these burdens of paying the bills, paying the car payment, getting the dog to the vet," he said. "When you can get away from those ... and get up into that new environment you can have really a very benign, sort of peaceful time."

Returning to Earth after a long duration flight is another matter.

"It's when you sit up and move your head around that suddenly you feel this force of gravity," said Thomas.

Experiments for Destiny

Discovery will carry up an Italian-made cargo carrier named Leonardo. The module is filled with experiments for the newly installed Destiny science module. Also, two spacewalks will be conducted to complete some assembly operations.

The crew of Atlantis installed the $1.4 billion Destiny lab during a mission that ended February 20.

"We're growing by leaps and bounds now and it's just all working, outstanding," said Col. Bob Cabana, ISS manager for international relations.

Discovery is scheduled to land March 20 at the Kennedy Space Center.



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