Endeavour crew prepare for Saturday's launch

LONGUEUIL, Que. — Canadian astronaut Julie Payette and her six American crew mates are due to arrive at Cape Canaveral this afternoon as they prepare for this weekend's launch of the shuttle Endeavour.

NASA says preparations are on schedule for the shuttle's launch on Saturday evening.

A hydrogen gas leak led to back-to-back launch delays last month while the spacecraft was being fuelled.

The Endeavour crew will deliver the final segment of a Japanese lab along with hundreds of kilograms of food to the International Space Station and will participate in several space walks during the 16-day mission.

The Canadian Space Agency says Payette will operate all three robotic arms -- Canadarm, Canadarm2 and the Japanese arm -- during her visit to space.

When Payette joins Robert Thirsk at the station, it will mark the first time Canada has two astronauts in space at the same time.

Thirsk, who arrived May 29 on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, is spending six months at the space station.

Thirsk is laying the groundwork for the deployment of Canadian robots on other planets and figuring out how to help people adapt to extreme environments.

NASA says the countdown will officially begin Wednesday at 10 p.m. when clocks begin ticking backward from T-43 hours.

Eight launches remain before the three shuttles -- Endeavour, Atlantis and Discovery -- are due to be retired at the end of 2010.

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