Can't find what you're looking for? Try Google Search.

NASA clears space shuttle for liftoff Thursday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA managers on Tuesday cleared space shuttle Atlantis for liftoff in two days on a mission to deliver Europe's first permanent space laboratory to the International Space Station.
The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis STS-122 (L-R), wave while leaving the space shuttle landing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida February 4, 2008. (REUTERS/Scott Audette)

Launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT) on Thursday.

Meteorologists are predicting a cold front will be moving through the area, possibly causing rain and clouds that would prohibit the launch. The chance conditions would be suitable for liftoff was 40 percent, Air Force meteorologists said on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, mission managers were optimistic about getting the first shuttle launch of the year under way.

"The team feels like we're in a very good place to go fly on Thursday," said LeRoy Cain, the head of NASA's shuttle mission management team.

"We're all thinking that Thursday's the day -- regardless of what the weather guy might tell ya," added launch director Doug Lyons.

Atlantis was scheduled to deliver Europe's Columbus module in December but the mission was delayed when problems surfaced with a shuttle emergency engine cutoff system.

The delay will cut short the time available for European astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who will be staying aboard the space station after Atlantis' departure, to get Columbus set up before the next shuttle arrives in March with his replacement.

Eyharts' planned 12- to 13-week stay likely will be cut to just six or seven weeks, said Alan Thirkettle, European Space Agency's space station program manager.

"It's been compressed (but) we've also taken account that the crew that's currently onboard there is just performing out of their socks," he said. "They're doing incredible work at a rate that the dreamers wouldn't have come up with, let alone the planners."

"We're kind of hoping that that will rub off on the shuttle crew," he added.

NASA plans to quickly follow Columbus' launch with the first flight for Japan's Kibo complex.

In all, the agency plans to take a sizable bite this year out of the 13 remaining missions on the shuttle's roster before the fleet is retired in 2010. In addition to 12 space station construction and resupply flights, NASA plans a mission in August or September to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

No comments: