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Put to the Test
All seven members of the STS-114 crew were busy at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Feb. 10 and 11, further familiarizing themselves with the spacecraft that will take them on the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight mission.

Collins and Kelly in Discovery's payload bayThe astronauts took the Crew Equipment Interface Test, or CEIT, a formal test that every Space Shuttle crew takes before flight. The experience served as a thrilling reminder that the May-June flight launch opportunity window is drawing ever closer.

Image to left: Inside the Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, STS-114 Commander Eileen Collins and Pilot James Kelly look at tile above the aft end of Discovery's payload bay. Credit: NASA

"We're getting really excited about flying," said Eileen Collins, commander of the STS-114 mission to the International Space Station. "We're going to have a great mission."

During the two-day event, the crew members spent the bulk of their time in the Orbiter Processing Facility, where orbiter Discovery is undergoing final preparations for its historic flight. The CEIT allowed the astronauts to work closely with the hardware they'll be required to operate on orbit.

This week's test had three major goals, according to Collins.

The first day was spent primarily on the first goal: a walk-around and visual inspection of Discovery's exterior. This will aid the astronauts during the second and fourth days of their flight, when they'll perform an on-orbit inspection to ensure the spacecraft sustained no damage during launch. "We'll also have photographs of the exterior of Discovery that we can look at later, and that will help us with our inspection goal," she added.

Collins inside Discovery's crew cabinThe crew spent most of the second day of CEIT inside Discovery's crew cabin, accomplishing the test's second goal by becoming more familiar with the flight deck and mid-deck. The astronauts noted which cables are routed to various pieces of equipment, looked behind panels, reviewed in-flight maintenance tasks, and even took a peek at components beneath the floor of the mid-deck, such as water tanks.

Image to right: Inside Discovery's darkened crew cabin, Commander Eileen Collins peers through one of Discovery's windows. Credit: NASA

Finally, the crew took on the test's third goal: space walk preparation. They ventured through Discovery's payload bay, reviewing normal tasks and any additional work they may be called upon to perform.

Normally, CEIT occurs about two months before scheduled launch. But STS-114 is not a normal mission. A test of the External Tank is planned, as well as other Return to Flight tests, so the schedule has been adjusted to provide extra time for testing at the launch pad.

Because of that, "we're doing CEIT early," Collins said. "The orbiter is ready, and the folks are ready for us to do this."

Astronauts look at tools to be used on STS-114Image to left: Mission Specialists Stephen Robinson, Andrew Thomas and Soichi Noguchi look at tools that will be used on STS-114. Credit: NASA

The astronauts also stopped by the Space Station Processing Facility for a quick look at the payloads they'll bring with them on their mission, including the Multipurpose Logistics Module Raffaello, a new control moment gyro, several racks of experiments and other equipment and supplies. The racks will eventually be installed inside Raffaello.

As launch day approaches and final preparations and plans are made, the crew members emphasized their confidence in the safety measures of the Space Shuttle program.

"You know, I believe in what we're doing," Collins said. "And there is risk in space flight, but yes, I certainly feel it's going to be safe."

+ View NASA's Return to Flight Web Site
Anna Heiney
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center