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First woman commander, Space Shuttle Discovery gets ready

The international space station turned over controls to Peggy Whitson, the first woman commander, as outgoing Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin hands over the lab. Peggy Whitson is the first woman in charge of the outpost. Whitson was launched October 10 aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft.

Space Shuttle Discovery is set for Tuesday’s launch to complete space station assembly, but an independent engineering group recommendation to postpone the launch due to edge panel replacement. The group says that three wing leading edge panels have areas of degraded coating.

Pam Melroy, Space Shuttle Commander, said the crew made a decision to press ahead with the launch despite the group recommendation.

NASA engineers say the protective silicon carbide coating on the wing leading edge panels degrade over time, but the engineering group said it’s not possible to predict how degradation might evolve or what sort of risk it might pose.

NASA decided after a full review it was safe to proceed with flight because there was no evidence the mechanism responsible for coating degradation will suddenly get worse and even if it somehow did, the crew would see it during normal heat shield inspections and would be able to make repairs if necessary. NASA managers decided re-entry was too low to warrant a two-month or longer launch delay.