Countdown starts for NASA's last shuttle launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Tue Jul 5, 2011 3:45pm EDT

1 of 2. Space shuttle Atlantis STS-135 sits on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Scott Audette

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Countdown clocks at the Kennedy Space Center began ticking on Tuesday toward the final flight in the 30-year-old U.S. space shuttle program, a cargo run to the International Space Station.

Liftoff of shuttle Atlantis carrying astronauts is set for 11:26 a.m. EDT on Friday, though meteorologists are concerned about the weather.

An approaching front is expected to cloud central Florida's skies beginning on Thursday, stirring up thunderstorms right around Friday's launch time.

"I wish I had a better weather briefing for you," Air Force meteorologist Kathy Winters told reporters on Tuesday.

Overall, the chance of an on-time liftoff is 40 percent, Winters said.

Conditions improve for Atlantis launch opportunities on Saturday and Sunday. An unmanned Delta rocket launch from the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which uses the same launch support personnel and equipment, would bump the next flight opportunity for Atlantis after Sunday to July 16.

Whenever Atlantis is launched, it will be the last launch from Kennedy Space Center for a while.

NASA is in the midst of remodeling one of the shuttle's two launch pads for a variety of commercial uses. The agency hopes to use the second shuttle launch pad for a future heavy-lift rocket, capable of sending astronauts and cargo to destinations beyond the space station's 220-mile-high orbit.

But the shuttle program is ending with no firm details of NASA's human space ventures beyond the station, which will be serviced by a mix of commercial and partner countries' launch vehicles.

For now, the Kennedy Space Center launch team has one goal in mind: getting Atlantis safely into orbit.

"The team gets into the mode of 'this is launch countdown' and that's really the focus that everybody has," said NASA official Jeremy Graeber. "To do it one more time is a great feeling."

(Editing by Tom Brown and Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (1)
D_R_MAKWANA wrote:
NASA’s huge investment in the Shuttle programme is a mapping exercise of such huge magnitude that generations ahead will one day thank NASA for their investment. Space aviation and evolution of space exploration has just begun even though NASA’s first Shuttle mission started in 1981. Despite programme errors and tragedies, NASA are world class and USA should be congratulated for funding a magnificent Shuttle programme. Space has a future, space exploration has a future, and NASA with aviation technology like that of the Shuttle and with evolution of new materials and technology has a huge future.

I believe the excellent President Obama will continue to support incredible space programmes once the more immediate problems of the economy are resolved.

Thank you NASA and the USA.

Best Wishes,

DINESH R MAKWANA (DREAMWORDS AND INORBITS)

Jul 08, 2011 3:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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