The shuttle Endeavour prepared to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday after NASA chief Michael Griffin tackled troubling reports of drunken astronauts on the launch pad.
The Endeavour, which blasted off on an 11-day mission on Wednesday, was set to rendezvous and dock with the ISS yesterday at 1753 GMT after the shuttle crew inspected the spacecraft's thermal insulation on Thursday, NASA said.
The shuttle crew, which will continue construction work on the orbiting space station, carries the first teacher into space 21 years after the 1986 Challenger explosion killed Christa McAuliffe and her six fellow crew members.
Barbara Morgan, 55, now aboard the Endeavour had trained as a back up to fellow teacher McAuliffe for the Challenger mission.
After the shuttle docks as scheduled with the ISS on Friday, Morgan will operate robotic arms on the ISS and the shuttle to unload and install new equipment and supplies on the space station.
Astronauts will also replace a defective gyroscope on the ISS and install an external stowage platform during three spacewalks.
Before the shuttle departed on its mission, Endeavour commander Scott Kelly spoke out to defend his fellow astronauts amid reports some NASA members were showing up for duty drunk.
"To imply that my crew or I would ever consider launching on our mission in anything but the best possible condition is utterly ridiculous," Kelly said in a letter to US media distributed by NASA.
After the flawless blastoff late on Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center, Griffin told reporters he could find no evidence to support last month's allegations in Aviation Week & Space Technology.
"Right now, we've gone back 10 years and we can't even find where it would be a possibility there was crew under the influence on either a Soyuz or a shuttle," he said.
It was not the final word on the matter, however, since the USA Today newspaper said NASA security chief Bryan O'Connor was looking through the agency's records from 16 years earlier.