Crew of the Discovery Shuttle Previews their Flight

The space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to lift off Wednesday. Richard Harris reports on the shuttle's seven-person crew, and their assessments of one another, at their pre-flight briefing. It marks the first flight of the U.S. space shuttle program since the shuttle Columbia burned up over Texas two years ago, killing its seven-member crew.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Astronauts tend to be cool, modest overachievers, so in preparation for tomorrow's launch of the space shuttle Discovery, NASA asked the seven crew members on the upcoming mission to sing one another's praises at a preflight briefing. NPR's Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS reporting:

The game of `tell me a secret' got off to a genteel start. Discovery's pilot, who likes to be called Vegas Kelly because of his card-playing luck, introduced the first astronaut picked for this mission, Japanese national Soichi Noguchi. Noguchi will not only be in space for his first time, Kelly noted, but doing his first spacewalks.

Unidentified Man: Soichi is so smooth and so good at everything he does, that it seems like he's flown in space many, many times.

Mr. SOICHI NOGUCHI (Astronaut): Thanks, Vegas. That's the warmest introduction you've ever gave me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NOGUCHI: What's up with that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NOGUCHI: Ladies and gentlemen, this is my great pleasure to introduce my spacewalk buddy, Dr. Steve Robinson. On this flight, he is obviously the spacewalker, spacewalker number two and a flight engineer and, best of all, the man with the flying guitar.

HARRIS: Robinson plays guitar in a rock 'n' roll band called Max Q. That's NASA-speak for the moment at which a shuttle reaches its maximum stress during liftoff. Robinson, one of the scientists on board the mission, in turn, introduced another PhD on the crew, Andy Thomas.

Dr. STEVE ROBINSON (Astronaut): Andy comes from Adelaide in South Australia, where he has no last name. He's sort of like Madonna. He's just known as Andy in Australia.

HARRIS: Thomas has been in space on three other occasions, including a stint on Russia's Mir Space Station. He says one of the more daunting challenges on a space station visit is loading and unloading all the gear and supplies. On the upcoming mission, that duty will fall to Navy Captain Wendy Lawrence. Thomas says she has a remarkable ability to keep track of stuff.

Mr. ANDY THOMAS (Astronaut): Oftentimes in training, we will hear about some obscure piece of equipment which we know very little about, and we will ask Wendy, and she will have--off the top of her head, she'll say, `Oh, that's stored in locker so-and-so, and you can find it there on flight bay so-and-so. We're moving it over here.' She's got all of these details at her fingertips, which is really a remarkable skill.

HARRIS: Captain Lawrence gracefully accepted the compliment and then turned to introduce her colleague, Charlie Camarda. He spent 22 years as an engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center before getting picked for this flight.

Captain WENDY LAWRENCE (Astronaut): We have a saying on the crew that Andy speaks the Queen's English and Charlie speaks English from Queens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Capt. LAWRENCE: And that will become apparent to you when he speaks next.

HARRIS: Camarda had the honor of introducing the mission's commander, Eileen Collins.

Mr. CHARLIE CAMARDA (Astronaut): One of the little-known facts about Eileen is her call sign, which is `Mom'--or one of her call signs is Mom that her class gave her, and as a good mom, she looks over this crew and she has a tremendous attention to detail, and if need be, she keeps us in line. She also listens.

HARRIS: And like a proud mom, which, incidentally, she is in real life, retired Air Force Colonel Collins used her opportunity at the mike to sing the praises of her charges.

Ms. EILEEN COLLINS (Astronaut): As y'all can see, this is a great crew. I'm so proud of my crew, and they're a great team, and they're going to do a great job on this mission, and I'm--the only thing that makes me sad right now is someday this mission's going to end and our crew's going to break up. We've just had a great time working together.

HARRIS: But for now, they have an action-packed 12 days in orbit ahead of them. Richard Harris, NPR News.

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