CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA fueled space shuttle Discovery for an early morning flight to the international space station today, but weather forced the launch to be scrubbed 6 minutes before launch.
Discovery and seven astronauts were set to blast off at 1:36 a.m. today with a full load of supplies, experiments and equipment. They headed out to the launch pad Monday night, waving and smiling, and climbed into the shuttle one by one. TV comedian Stephen Colber, whose treadmill is on board, even gave a "go" for launch and urged, "Let's light this candle!"
But thunderstorms raked across the launch site earlier in the evening. A lightning strike was reported just five miles from the pad and then it started to pour. The storms finally eased, but not fast enough. Launch director Pete Nickolenko waited as long as he could before halting the countdown.
Discovery's most prominent payload is NASA's new $5 million treadmill, which is named after Comedy Central's Colbert. He could not attend the launch, but said in a recorded message that he couldn't be prouder that his treadmill soon will be installed at the space station "to help finally slim down all those chubby astronauts."
Colbert campaigned earlier this year to have a space station room named after him. He won the online vote, but NASA went with Tranquility, the name of the dry lunar sea in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed 40 years ago this summer. As a consolation prize, Colbert got the treadmill. Its full name is Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill; it will fly up in more than 100 pieces and won't be put together until sometime next month.
Colbert poked fun at NASA's choice of Tranquility for the chamber, which will be launched early next year. "Yeah, that will scare the aliens," he said. He ended his televised message by shouting, "I am 'go' to launch me. Let's light this candle!"
In all, the space shuttle will deliver about 17,000 pounds of gear to the space station.