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Countdown begins for astronauts

Published: 1:46PM Tuesday July 17, 2007 Source: Reuters

Teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan and her six crewmates onthe upcoming space shuttle Endeavour mission flew to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday for a final training run before liftoff.
   
Leaving behind the computer simulators and virtual reality labs in Houston, the crew will climb aboard the spaceship, which is scheduled for blastoff on August 7 on a construction mission to the International Space Station.
   
"It's really a privilege to be here. We really, really look forward to the rest of our training and we really appreciate the opportunity to fly the orbiter," said Endeavour commander Scott Kelly, who will be making his second trip into space.
   
Only one astronaut from the Endeavour crew, Rick Mastracchio, has been to the space station and that was before people were living there.
   
The seven-member crew includes four first-time fliers. None has waited longer for a spaceflight than Morgan, who trained 22 years ago as the backup to teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe.
   
When McAuliffe and six astronauts died during a launch accident aboard Challenger in January 1986, Morgan was asked to stay with the programme with the intention that one day another teacher would be given a seat in the shuttle crew cabin.
   
It took 21 years and a career change for Morgan, 55, to get there. She joined the astronaut corps in 1998 and was trained as mission specialist.
   
Her primary job during Endeavour's mission is to operate the shuttle's robot arm and oversee the transfer of 2268kg of cargo to the orbital outpost.
   
NASA subsequently selected three more teachers to train as educator-astronauts.
   
The crew also includes Kelly, 43, and Mastracchio, 47, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dave Williams, 54, and Charles Hobaugh, 45, Tracy Caldwell, 37, and Al Drew, 44.
   
The crew's simulated launch countdown ends on Thursday.