Shuttle Atlantis Takes a Short Trip

Shuttle Atlantis Takes a Short Trip
The space shuttle Atlantis, the second orbiter slated to launch since the Columbia disaster, rolls out of its Orbiter Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on July 22, 2005. (Image credit: T. Malik.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - Despite two delay-filled days, the shuttle Atlantis issafely inside NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) after a brief hop forwardin its long road toward space.

Shuttle engineersrolled the Atlantis orbiter into the VAB, where it will be mated to itsexternal tank-solid rocket booster launch stack for NASA's STS-121 mission, atabout 10:20 a.m. EDT (1420 GMT) Friday.

Landinggear glitches plagued Atlantis' rollover from its Orbiter Processing Facility(OPF) to the VAB.

Initiallyslated to rollover in the morning hours of July 20, Atlantis did not startmoving until about 9:41 a.m. EDT (1341 GMT) Friday, and five minutes laterbreached the outer doors of its OPF hangar.

On July 20,engineers found a faulty tire pressure sensorconnection between Atlantis' front left tire and the orbiter, promptingengineers to change out the tire, which NASA officials said was an easier fixthan repairing the connector itself. Additional problems retractingAtlantis landing gear, which must be tucked inside the orbiter during rolloveroperations, also delayed the event, NASA officials added.

"This isgreat," a NASA shuttle worker said as the orbiter rolled past photographers,reporters and excited NASA employees. "Especially after all this delay."

NASA hastapped Atlantis as its second shuttle to launch since the 2003 Columbiadisaster. Its STS-121 mission, set to launch in September with astronaut StevenLindsey in command, is the final test flight to shakedown new orbiterinspection tools and methods, as well as external tank modifications, beforethe space agency resumes major construction missions to complete theInternational Space Station (ISS).

The missionwill follow the STS-114 spaceflight of Discovery, which is slated to launch at10:39 a.m. EDT (1439 GMT) on July 26. Atlantis is expected to serve as a rescueship for the STS-114 astronauts in the unlikely event that Discovery isseverely damaged during flight and its crew forced to take refuge aboard theISS.

"Everythingyou've done to Discovery, we've done to Atlantis too," Scott Thurston,Atlantis' vehicle manager, told before the rollover, addingthat his crew had less time to perform the work since all new hardware andprocedures went to Discovery first. "We've basically had less time, because everybodyfocused on getting those deliveries to's a big accomplishment."

The orbiterwill hold updated cameras and sports a new, 50-foot (15-meter) boom tipped withcameras and laser sensors to probe vulnerable heat-resistant areas for damageduring flight. During a spacewalk, an STS-121 astronaut will ride the end ofthe boom, which will be attached to the tip of Atlantis' robotic arm, to testits dynamics with such a load.

"We've gota special relationship with these vehicles that we see every day," Thurstonsaid. "Everybody's got a different thing that they hold very dear." 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.