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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Work to prepare space shuttle Endeavour for its first flight in nearly five years was on schedule on Tuesday and meteorologists predicted clear skies for Wednesday's planned liftoff.
Endeavour's launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a construction mission to the International Space Station was scheduled for 6:36 p.m. EDT/2236 GMT.
"The weather has been kind to us, so we've been fortunate to not get behind," Jeff Spaulding, a NASA launch manager, said at a news briefing on Tuesday.
Good weather was expected on Wednesday, with Florida's seasonal afternoon thunderstorms on an unexpected, but welcome, hiatus. Forecasters predicted an 80 percent chance conditions would be suitable for launch.
"Overall weather is looking really good for this time of year in Florida," Air Force meteorologist Kathy Winters said.
Overnight, technicians filled the shuttle's onboard storage tanks with chemicals that will be mixed in space to power the ship's generators.
The newly refurbished spaceship, which last flew in 2002, also is flying a new piece of equipment that can tap into the power grid of the International Space Station and keep the shuttle docked at the outpost longer.
Endeavour is scheduled to spend up to 10 days at the space station to install a segment to the station's structural backbone, deliver supplies and replace a faulty gyroscope, which is used to keep the outpost properly positioned in orbit.
The shuttle's seven-member crew includes teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who trained 22 years ago as the backup to Challenger crew member Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire social studies teacher.
McAuliffe and six astronauts were killed seconds after Challenger's liftoff on January 28, 1986, when a booster rocket failed. NASA eventually decided to fly Morgan, but only after she officially joined the astronaut corps and became a full member of the shuttle crew.
Though the agency plans some educational programs in connection with Morgan's flight, most of her time will be spent operating the shuttle's robot arm and transferring cargo to and from the station.
"We could not do this flight if we had a person as a crew member that was just dedicated to education," Endeavour commander Scott Kelly said in preflight news conference. "Barbara is a fully functional member of this crew and we need her to do space shuttle stuff."