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Shuttle To Deliver Crucial Parts (And Toy Duck) To Space Station

Discovery is poised to bring final backbone piece and solar wings, along with a plush souvenir.

NASA workers were busy pumping 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen into Space Shuttle Discovery's fuel tanks Wednesday afternoon at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to ready the vehicle for a night mission to the International Space Station.

As of 2 p.m. Eastern time, NASA said it was confident that the weather in Florida, as well as weather at emergency landing sites across the globe, would hold for the planned 9:20 p.m. launch Wednesday.

Shuttle mission STS-119, delayed for weeks by balky hydrogen valves, will see the shuttle crew deliver crucial piece parts to the International Space Station. The parts include the final truss needed to complete the station's 361-foot-long backbone, as well as the final pair of power generating, solar array wings.

The mission, the 125th of the soon-to-be-retired shuttle program, marks the 36th launch for Discovery. On board are Cmdr. Lee Archambault, pilot Tony Antonelli, mission specialist Steve Swanson, and three other NASA astronauts.

Also part of the seven-member crew is Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who will replace American Sandra Magnus for a two-month stint at the space station. Wakata is bringing along a stuffed toy duck as a memento of his hometown of Saitama, Japan.

President Barack Obama has proposed a $2 billion increase in funding for the space shuttle program for next year, but ultimately he plans to discontinue the program in 2010.

Taking the shuttle's place will be the Orion spacecraft project. That effort, which calls for a return to manned space exploration and possible moon landings, won't come online until 2015 at the earliest.

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