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Discovery on countdown for Thursday launch

'In good shape' for 39th and final flight

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Space shuttle Discovery is on countdown for lift-off on Thursday to the International Space Station, with NASA's weather forecast predicting "80 per cent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time".

NASA test director Jeff Spaulding yesterday described the venerable vehicle as "in good shape" to blast off on its 39th and final mission, after a long career which began way back on 30 August 1984.

Discovery will deliver vital spares and the converted multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, set to become a permanent addition to the orbiting outpost.

On board for the STS-133 mission will be commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialists Michael Barratt, Steve Bowen, Alvin Drew, and Nicole Stott.

Bowen replaces the unfortunate Tim Kopra, who fell off his bike last month and can't make the flight. Bowen will become the first astronaut to fly two consecutive shuttle missions, having last May formed part of Atlantis's STS-132 crew.

Weather permitting, Discovery will depart Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A at 21:50 GMT. ®

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