NASA readies Shuttle for Saturday launch
If all goes according to plans, the Space Shuttle Discovery will be launched sometime Saturday morning or early afternoon. Check the NASA site for the latest updates. Follow the countdown here and see what is happening each hour from now till liftoff.
If problems develop after the shuttle is up and the crew is safely aboard the Space Station, NASA Could Land Shuttle Without Crew with its newly installed remote cable system:
And NASA would try to fly the unmanned space shuttle home, landing it with a new remote-controlled cable system.
NASA would only take such action if the Discovery were so damaged that it couldn't be repaired while docked at the space station, and if it were unsafe for the astronauts to return in it. The astronauts could stay as long as 81 days at the space station until a rescue vehicle arrived.
"If we got into that scenario, we would really have to hustle," John Shannon, deputy manager of the space shuttle program, said Thursday. "We would really have to work ... until we felt a high degree of confidence that we weren't going to cause more problems."
In that case, space shuttle Atlantis would be launched to bring back Discovery's crew members. Discovery would have to be undocked from the orbiting space lab to make room for Atlantis.
Up until recently, Discovery's fate likely would have ended with a watery crash into the Pacific Ocean. But now NASA has a new plan using a remote-controlled orbiter cable that can be attached to control systems in the shuttle by astronauts.