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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 July, 2005, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Discovery takes on the challenge
By Christine McGourty
BBC science Correspondent

Mission Specialist Charles Camarda
Camarda: A duty to speak up
It takes a certain courage to fly the first shuttle to be launched after a tragedy such as Columbia.

But the crew of seven, in public at least, show no hesitation; though they don't pretend, either, that the flight will be risk-free.

"I always knew the risks would be high when I entered this job and they have not changed," says Charlie Camarda.

At the age of 53, he's one of the older members of the Discovery crew, but one of the two crew members flying into space for the first time; the other is the young Japanese engineer Soichi Noguchi.

And Camarda's lengthy career at the US space agency (Nasa), where he's worked since the 1970s, means he's not afraid to admit some things must change.

We'll be doing some fun things up there, so I suggest you watch the mission and find out
Eileen Collins, mission commander
"I grew up in an engineering culture where dissent was encouraged; it was mandatory. We had no problem speaking up and getting into heated arguments.

"That's one of the things that enabled us to land on the Moon many times. I think it's important we get back to that engineering culture."

Crew tribute

The independent investigation into the Columbia disaster pinned much of the blame for the tragedy on what it described as a flawed "culture" at Nasa, which allowed the problem of debris from the fuel tank to be overlooked.

Commander of the upcoming mission, Eileen Collins, admits that the "culture" remains a problem at the space agency.

STS-114 crew members (Nasa)
Commander Eileen Collins
Pilot James Kelly
Mission Specialist Andy Thomas
MS Charles Camarda
MS Wendy Lawrence
MS Soichi Noguchi
MS Steve Robinson
"Improving the culture in any business, or any company, is a work in progress. It takes an ongoing effort. If you ever declare victory you're wrong. I don't think you can ever declare victory," she says.

Collins says the crew has agreed on a tribute to the Columbia crew to be revealed during the flight.

"We'll be remembering the Columbia crew during our mission as we have done every day since February 2003. The crew were our friends and we miss them very much."

She's known simply as "mom" to her crew, but comes with an astonishing CV littered with degrees and special honours.

Recently retired as a Colonel from the US Air Force, she has accumulated over 6,000 hours of flying time in 30 different types of aircraft, and also has three space shuttle flights behind her.

Three B's

Also with three spaceflights each to their names are Australian Andy Thomas and US Navy helicopter pilot Wendy Lawrence, both assigned to the Discovery mission.

Accomplished on classical guitar, as well as an expert in advanced aerodynamics, Thomas is known as the crew's "renaissance man".

He recently revealed which music he'll be taking on the flight: "the three B's: Bach, Beethoven and the Beatles."

And speaking in praise of his fellow astronaut Lawrence, he said she was a woman of many talents: "There was one time she showed us how to eat a grasshopper - a skill that remains with me to this day.

"If you're interested in the finer points of cooking and barbecuing grasshoppers, this is the lady you should talk to."

On the forthcoming mission, her main role is "loadmaster", with responsibility for coordinating transfer of all the equipment and supplies to the International Space Station, as well as taking on board the space shuttle all the materials to be returned to Earth.

'Fun things'

Piloting the shuttle is Jim Kelly, who has flown Discovery once already in a mission to the International Space Station in 2001.

Discovery on its launch pad (AP)
Discovery is set to fly on 13 July
Andy Thomas will be in charge of the efforts to inspect Discovery in-flight, to check for any of the kind of damage to tiles that led to the destruction of Columbia.

And, a veteran of two shuttle flights, American astronaut Steve Robinson will be "spacewalk buddy" to Soichi Noguchi, flying in space for the first time, but nominated as the lead spacewalker on all three EVAs to be carried out during the mission.

The extended delays to the launch of Discovery have meant extra training time for the crew of seven, who are now in quarantine and preparing to fly - 4 days before launch - to Kennedy Space Centre for lift-off next week.

Collins admits the first few days of the flight are "going to be very difficult, doing things we've never done before", such as inspecting the orbiter's tiles for damage.

"We're going to be working hard. But what I tell the other astronauts is that if you're going to fly in space, you've got to learn to enjoy the experience as well as accomplishing the mission.

"We'll be doing some fun things up there, so I suggest you watch the mission and find out."


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