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Venus Express will launch in October 2005.
Astronauts Steve Robinson and Soichi Noguchi made their preparations to head outside the Space Shuttle Discovery today. This spacewalk had been planned for the mission, but shuttle managers gave the two men the additional task of fixing two protruding gap fillers in between the heat tiles on the underside of the shuttle. Robinson will attempt to pull the excess material out by hand, or use a hacksaw if that doesn't work.
The European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft has completed its last phase of testing in France, and now it will make the journey to the launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. If all goes well, Venus Express will launch in October 2005 on a Soyuz/Fregat rocket - it will only take 153 days to make the journey to Venus. It was developed in only four years, and has inherited many instruments from Mars Express and the Rosetta spacecraft.
Shuttle managers decided on Wednesday that Discovery's leading wing edge is safe for it to make re-entry. This is the area that was damaged by falling foam during Columbia's launch, and caused the catastrophe during re-entry. High resolution photographs have analyzed every part of Discovery, and the only concerning area were some protruding tile gap fillers, which will be fixed during a spacewalk on Wednesday.
NASA's Messenger spacecraft made a successful Earth flyby this week, getting a gravity boost that will propel it into the inner solar system. This maneuver put it on course towards Venus, where it'll get another gravity assist to put it on track towards its final destination: Mercury. It won't get into a final, stable orbit around the closest planet to the Sun until 2011. Messenger took several photographs of the Earth as it came by, using this opportunity to calibrate its scientific equipment.
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