After a billion-dollar overhaul, the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled for launch Wednesday afternoon — with an Iowa native at the helm. Astronaut Jim Kelly of Burlington is the pilot on this “Return to Flight” mission, the first since the February 2003 crash of the shuttle Columbia that killed all seven astronauts.
This will be the second shuttle flight for Kelly, who describes his responsibilities during the mission: “The primary job of the pilot in every flight, obviously, my first job is to back up the commander. Eileen Collins is our commander and although she’s totally competent to do absolutely everything, we never do everything with one person. We always have someone to back them up. So my primary job is to back up Eileen pretty much in anything she does: flying the vehicle, reconfiguring the vehicle, all those kind of things, so that’s my job number one.”
Kelly says most of his time in flight is going to be taken up with the robotics operations — working with the shuttle’s robotic arm during all three scheduled spacewalks and during inspections of the shuttle to insure there was no damage during liftoff. “Probably the second biggest job I have is robotics for this flight. I’m a robotics operator on both the shuttle arm, helping out with all the inspection processes, with the inspection boom and sensors and all of those things, as well as I’m a station robotic arm operator, primarily for doing all of the E-V-As (extra-vehicular activity), all of the spacewalk work, as well as the logistics module back and forth, onto the station and back in the payload bay.” Kelly’s first space flight was also on Discovery during 2001. Liftoff is scheduled for 2:51 P-M Wednesday. NASA says there’s a 30-percent chance of a weather delay.