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Testing the Discovery Crew
Training to fly a space shuttle keeps astronauts busy on a normal day. But three days this week at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida gave the seven-member crew of mission STS-121 an opportunity to go a step further.

STS-121 crew gathers at a microphone for the media Image left: Shortly after arrival in a NASA Gulfstream jet at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility on Tuesday, Space Shuttle Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey stepped to the podium and welcomed the media. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett + View High-Res Image

The Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test is held at Kennedy about two weeks prior to each space shuttle flight, providing the crew an opportunity to participate in several safety training and simulated countdown activities. The training includes a mock launch countdown that ends in a simulated main engine cut-off exercise. The astronauts also spend time undergoing emergency egress exercises at the pad and have an opportunity to view and inspect the payloads in the orbiter's payload bay.

Commander Steven Lindsey and Pilot Mark Kelly take part in emergency egress practice Lindsey introduced his fellow crew members: Pilot Mark Kelly and Mission Specialists Mike Fossum, Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson, Piers Sellers and Thomas Reiter. He commented on the Flight Readiness Review meetings scheduled for June 16 and 17. "My crew and I are optimistic for an early July launch date," Lindsey said.

Image right: STS-121 Commander Steven Lindsey (left) and Pilot Mark Kelly take part in emergency egress practice. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett + View High-Res Image

On Wednesday, a beautiful sunny morning dawned on the Space Coast of Florida as the Discovery astronauts prepared for their first full day of exercises.

Wearing their traditional blue suits, the astronauts left their quarters for the 20-minute ride to Launch Pad 39B, where they were involved with safety training such as familiarizing themselves with launch pad escape routes and fire suppression procedures.

The STS-121 crew members leave the Operations and Checkout building On Thursday, a busy schedule greeted the astronauts. The team was awakened at 6 a.m. and ate a traditional breakfast in the crew quarters. Following a weather briefing, they suited up in custom-fitted orange flight suits and helmets.

Image left: The suited STS-121 crew members stride out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Launch Pad 39B for a simulated countdown. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett + View High-Res Image

The crew then emerged from the Operations and Checkout building, waving to employees during this traditional countdown milestone known as the "walkout," and climbed into NASA's silver Astrovan for the 20-minute ride to the launch pad. The astronauts were whisked up into the White Room and seated inside the orbiter for a mock launch countdown.

Later that day, the shuttle team practiced driving the M-113 tanks that could carry them away from the launch pad in case of an emergency. Afterward, the team was briefed on range safety.

STS-121 crew pose with astronaut rescue team leader Capt. George Hoggard. Image right: Following training in the M-113 armored personnel carrier, the STS-121 crew pose for a photo with Capt. George Hoggard, astronaut rescue team leader. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett + View High-Res Image

On Friday, the last morning of special training for the seven astronauts started with a 7 a.m. wake-up call. After breakfast, the crew was transported to Launch Pad 39B for a final inspection of the payload bay, traditionally called the "payload bay walkdown."

An elevator took the team to the Rotating Service Structure, which surrounds the orbiter, into the Payload Changeout Room. There they had a clear view of Leonardo, the multi-purpose logistics module that contains supplies, equipment and other cargo for the International Space Station. Shuttle Training Aircraft waits for practice flights to begin. This is an important part of their visit to Kennedy for the countdown test, as it allows the crew members to carefully examine the module from access platforms that extend over the payload bay. They checked for sharp edges that could snag on their spacesuits and confirmed the payload's readiness for flight.

Image left: At the Shuttle Landing Facility, the Shuttle Training Aircraft taxis on the runway with the STS-121 pilot and commander in the cockpit for practice flights. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett + View High-Res Image

Prior to their departure for Johnson Space Center in Texas, STS-121 Commander Steven Lindsey spoke briefly to the media and said, "the vehicle looks great, we're ready to go, and I believe we are doing everything necessary to make it as safe as we possibly can to fly."

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Elaine M. Marconi
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center