Astronaut Nicole Passonno Stott, who grew up in Clearwater, is scheduled to make her second launch into space this week.
She's part of a six-person crew hoping to blast off Wednesday on a mission to the International Space Station.
NASA had hoped to launch today, but twice delayed plans because of gas leaks.
Stott spoke earlier this year with St. Petersburg Times reporter Curtis Krueger about this mission, which is the last planned flight of Discovery before the space shuttle program shuts down for good next year.
Under current plans, NASA hopes to have two more shuttle flights after this one.
Stott also spoke about working at NASA's Kennedy Space Center before she was selected as an astronaut.
This week's flight is scheduled as an 11-day supply and construction mission. Astronauts also will deliver a new space robot called Robonaut 2.
Tell me about your upcoming flight, the last scheduled flight of the space shuttle Discovery.
It's definitely a bittersweet thing, that seems to be word that's used around here.
I'm excited to be flying on Discovery again and I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Discovery when I was at (Kennedy Space Center). … It's sad to see it retiring. It's a really special spacecraft just like the other ones are and I think it's got a lot of life left in it.
What was your role at the Kennedy Space Center when you worked on the space shuttle program there with Discovery?
With Discovery in particular, I worked as what they called a vehicle manager and a flow director. That's basically following the vehicle from landing to launch and getting it through all the work and processing that it needs to be ready to launch again … the care and feeding of it to get it ready for launch.
Does that mean you feel a connection to Discovery?
I definitely do. … In addition to the hardware, there's the team of people there that I feel like I have some connection to. … There are people that are there that have literally committed their lives to keeping shuttles flying.
What are you most excited about on the upcoming flight?
I am definitely excited about seeing the (International Space) Station again and not just from the inside but that approach you make with the space shuttle as you're coming toward the station to rendezvous. It's so cool. You've got this glow of the Earth below you and you've got this black, black sky, and then this little pinpoint of light transforms itself into this beautiful space station through your window. I remember being so impressed by that before and being pretty sad about it when I had to leave it the last time. …
And then getting inside the station and seeing the new addition, this big cupola window that we have that faces toward the Earth and gives you this panorama from one end of the horizon to the other.
What's going to be the hardest part about this flight?
I think it's when we land and have to walk away from the vehicle and know that it's not going to fly again. I think that's going to be kind of hard.
Are you getting a lot of comments from your friends and family in the Clearwater area?
I am and I'm looking forward to that connection with those guys again and Clearwater in general. … Just knowing that people were excited about (my last flight), it was a real interesting thing to me.
What was the most fun part of your trip back home to the Clearwater area this summer?
It was just that connection again … seeing some people and meeting some new people that I know were excited about the flight. I have to say it was very strange for me to come back and do a commencement address at my high school (Clearwater High). I never in my life imagined that I would be the one up there doing that … and for St. Pete College as well. The time I spent there I think was a huge player in some of the choices I made about flying and just what I would study in school. It meant a lot.
Beyond this next flight, do you know what your plans are?
I have no idea (laughing). I think there's certainly opportunities for maybe another station flight in the future.
That would be at this point up and down on a Russian Soyuz vehicle. … I need to talk to my family about it first … see how they'd feel about it.
Anything you'd like to add?
I think I'd just like to say thank you to everyone there for continuing to follow the story and sharing their interest with me, and I hope that it's had some positive impact on their lives as well.