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2/25/2010
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Shuttle Discovery Preps For Mission

Flight to the space station is one of just four remaining launches in NASA's shuttle program.

NASA crews started preparations on Thursday for the next space shuttle mission, which will see Discovery deliver a new logistics module to the International Space Station.

The launch isn't scheduled until April 5, but mission ground crews and astronauts are already getting things underway.

Technical teams on launch pad 39A at Florida's Kennedy Space Center prepared the connections between Discovery and its external fuel tank for much of the day. Crews also installed the external tank camera, which photographs the fuel tank as it falls away from the shuttle after liftoff.

The images are needed to ensure that debris from the tank has not damaged the shuttle's heat shields or other components.

Crews also installed explosive charges that the shuttle uses to blast away the tank's liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen umbilical cords once en route to space.

Discovery is set to begin its roll out to the launch pad on March 2, starting at 12:02 a.m.

The mission, officially known as STS-131, will see the shuttle carry a crew of seven, including Commander Alan Poindexter, Pilot James Dutton, and five mission specialists. Two of the specialists, James Dutton and Japan's Naoko Yamazaki, are making their first flights into space.

The mission calls for the astronauts to perform at least three spacewalks.

STS-131 will mark the space shuttle program's final mission with a seven-member crew. It's also the last to have rookie astronauts aboard.

STS-131 is the 131st flight for the space shuttle program overall. NASA is cancelling the program at the end of 2010, and there are only four remaining missions scheduled through the remainder of this year.

InformationWeek has published a report on how telepresence is turning video communications into a near in-person experience. Download the report here (registration required).

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