Some space enthusiasts in Iowa are setting their watch-alarms to go off at 8:35 tonight (Thursday) as that’s when NASA hopes to launch the shuttle Discovery, if the weather in Florida cooperates. Kristian Anderson, the space science specialist at the Science Center of Iowa, says this mission will focus on rewiring the International Space Station — no easy feat.

Anderson says “They’ve been using a temporary electrical system for the past few years and as the space station gets bigger, they have to change the wiring, much like you might do when you’re in the process of building a house. They’re going to be adding on some pieces that will allow them to, in the future, add on even more solar panels.”

Tonight’s launch is the first night launch of the shuttle in four years. Anderson says night launches were halted after the shuttle Columbia was lost due to damage done by falling bits of foam from the external fuel tank during liftoff. He says “They have performed some redesigns to the external tank to prevent that foam loss and in this case, even if there were some damage to occur that they didn’t see upon launch, when they arrive at the space station, they perform a very detailed survey, photographing the entire shuttle, top to bottom, so they can see that damage if it did occur.”

No Iowans are on this shuttle mission, but astronaut Clayton Anderson is slated to go into orbit in June of 2007. He’ll become the first Iowa State University graduate ever to reach space.