CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Discovery's seven astronauts arrived at Kennedy Space Center yesterday for a final period of training and preparations before they are launched on a 12-day mission to rewire the international space station.
Liftoff was set for Thursday at 9:35 p.m. It will be the first night launch in four years.
"We're going to go ahead and hopefully have one heck of a night show to give everybody this Thursday night," Mark Polansky, Discovery's commander, said after he and his crew arrived from Houston aboard five training jets.
Polansky and pilot William Oefelein will spend the next several days practicing landings in a shuttle-training aircraft, and other crew members will study their mission tasks. The countdown clock is set to begin ticking tonight.
Discovery's astronauts will rewire the space station, bring up an $11 million addition and drop off astronaut Sunita Williams of Needham, Mass., for a six-month stay at the space lab.
German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency, who has been living at the space station since July, will take Williams's place aboard Discovery for the trip back to Earth.
"I just can't wait to get to my new home," said Williams, 41, a native of Euclid, Ohio.
Williams, a Navy commander, said she wanted to fly a long-duration mission to help study what happens to the body and how materials work in space.
She holds a bachelor's degree in physical science from the Naval Academy and a master's in engineering management from the Florida Institute of Technology. A naval aviator, she attended the Naval Test Pilot School and then became an instructor there.
Williams will help operate the space station's robotic arm and join in a spacewalk to rewire the space lab.