Swede All Set For Blast-Off

A Swedish astronaut WILL be blasting off into space next Wednesday after NASA cleared the space shuttle Discovery for launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Christer Fuglesang, who’s waited 14 years for his chance to go into Space, will join up on Sunday with the rest of the six members of the space shuttle crew at the Kennedy centre for launch preparations.

The flight will be the third and final shuttle mission of the year. NASA needs to fly 14 shuttle flights by 2010 to complete assembly of the half-built $100 billion space station.

Discovery is expected to lift off about 9:36 p.m. on the first nighttime launch since the 2003 Columbia accident. The first three missions after the accident were launched during daylight hours so cameras would have clear views of the spacecraft’s fuel tank to spot any falling debris.

A piece of insulating foam that fell off the tank during launch hit and critically damaged Columbia’s wing. The damage went undetected and Columbia broke apart as it attempted to return to Earth. All seven astronauts aboard were killed.

NASA has since redesigned the fuel tank twice to stem foam shedding, with additional safety improvements planned.

”I think we’re all ready to resume night launches,” NASA shuttle program manager Wayne Hale told a news briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.