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The Shuttle Discovery is good to go, NASA says, and is on standby for launch later this week, despite Hurricane Dennis having slammed into the Florida coast. Weather forecasters say that there is a 30 per cent chance of weather disrupting the launch, according to NASA. Frankly, those are better odds that you'd get on most English picnics going ahead.

"Discovery is in excellent shape as we continue our preparations in anticipation of Wednesday's launch," Jeff Spaulding, NASA test director told the BBC.

Kathy Winters, the shuttle weather officer told reporters that a 24 or 48 hour delay would mean the launch would be more likely to be postponed because of high winds, but added that as storm season is now in full swing, delaying the launch until after the weekend would not make much difference. Forecasters predict several new storms will develop in the area in the next few days.

Slated for 13 July, the launch will be the first time Shuttle has returned to space since the destruction of the Shuttle Columbia, with the loss of all her crew, in March 2003.

Discovery will be commanded by Eileen Collins, and piloted by James Kelly. Mission specialists Andy Thomas, Charles Camarda, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi and Steve Robinson will also be on board.

The mission is largely a test flight, to determine that all the safety upgrades do what they are supposed to. The team will also fly the shuttle to the International Space Station to deliver spare parts and other equipment. ®

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