Shuttle commander Stephen Frick and his fellow crewmates touched down on a sunny runway here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT) as NASA prepares to begin counting down to their Thursday launch toward the ISS.
?We hope it stays like this all week long to have our chance of launching Atlantis on Thursday and bringing the Columbus module up to the International Space Station,? Frick told reporters on the tarmac.
Frick and his STS-122 mission crew are slated to launch Dec. 6 at 4:31 p.m. EST (2131 GMT) from Pad 39A to deliver the European Space Agency?s (ESA) Columbus lab. Current forecasts predict an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions at liftoff.
?We flew by Atlantis out at Launch Pad 39A on the way in and it?s a beautiful sight,? said shuttle pilot Alan Poindexter, thanking the teams of engineers and technicians who readied the orbiter for flight. ?We?ll take good care of Atlantis, but it?s really their ship and we appreciate them loaning it to us for a couple of weeks.?
Frick, Poindexter and their five crewmates expect to perform at least three spacewalks at the ISS to install Columbus during their planned 11-day mission. They will also swap out one member of the station?s Expedition 16 crew and upgrade the outpost?s exterior.
Mission specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Love and ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel, of Germany, and Leopold Eyharts of France will launch aboard Atlantis with Frick and Poindexter.
?I feel very honored to be a member of this crew who will bring up Columbus, for Europe, into space,? Schlegel said.
NASA officials said shuttle engineers completed repairs today to three small dings on Atlantis? foam covered fuel tank. The damaged areas, which sat, on the curving nose of 15-story tank above the shuttle?s perch, resembled shallow, thin knife cuts with the longest running just over 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length.
The damage was discovered Friday and repaired in stages, and should not impact plans for Thursday?s planned launch, mission managers said.
?It?s just a really great time and we thank everyone for helping us get ready,? Melvin said.
NASA will broadcast Atlantis' STS-122 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's STS-122 mission coverage and live NASA TV feed.
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