NASA Discusses Plan for Last Space Shuttle Launch
NASA's final space shuttle crew took part in a press conference on June 22, 2011 while standing behind their spacecraft, Atlantis, and Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A. From left to right: STS-135 mission specialists Rex Walheim, Sandra Magnus, pilot Doug Hurley and commander Chris Ferguson.
Credit: Z. Pearlman

NASA officials are convening today (June 28) for an all-day discussion about the space shuttle Atlantis' upcoming mission, and to set an official launch date for the final flight of the agency's shuttle program.

Mission managers will conduct one final check today, called the Flight Readiness Review (FRR), to assess whether Atlantis, its four-astronaut crew, and the International Space Station are adequately prepared for the orbiter's launch on the 135th and final flight of NASA's 30-year shuttle program.

Atlantis is currently targeted to lift off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8, but agency officials will announce an official launch date following the end of the FRR meeting. [Gallery: Shuttle Atlantis' Last Launch Pad Trek]

During today's meeting, program managers, flight directors, mission managers and other top agency officials will discuss any outstanding issues from the previous flight — Endeavour's STS-134 mission — and assess the workflow for the upcoming launch and the readiness of the shuttle, astronauts and ground teams.

"No stone is left unturned," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told "It's literally a top-to-bottom review of everything that involves the flight readiness of this mission. They discuss the readiness of the crew, readiness of the ISS to be able to handle the shuttle mission and go over each individual component, like the solid rocket boosters, external tank, how the range is prepared, flight crew operations, conditions at trans-oceanic abort landing sites. They discuss all of these things and more."

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space operations chief, heads the FRR meeting, and John Shannon, the space shuttle program manager, and Mike Suffredini, the space station program manager, are among those in attendance. Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach, Mike Moses, chair of the shuttle's mission management team, representatives from various NASA spaceflight centers, program officers, engineers and members of the safety assurance team also attend.

On June 21, a Flight Readiness Review at the shuttle program level was conducted, and officials unanimously voted to proceed with launch preparations.

"It looked at almost exactly the same issues, but at a program level," Beutel said. "They brought all the details to the surface and made sure they were ready to talk about all the issues and bring it all before senior management. The shuttle program FRR is where they identify anything that may need to be researched or explained more thoroughly before the executive level meeting."

If NASA executives decide to proceed toward a July 8 launch, Atlantis' commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim are set to arrive at Kennedy Space Center on July 4 at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT).

Atlantis is scheduled to launch on a 12-day resupply mission to the International Space Station. Atlantis' STS-135 mission will be the final flight before NASA's three orbiters are retired for good. After 30 years, the agency is bringing its iconic shuttle program to an end to focus on human exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

You can follow Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.