Shuttle Atlantis Suits Up for Flight

Shuttle Atlantis Suits Up for Flight
After being raised to a vertical position, Atlantis hangs suspended several feet above the floor of the transfer aisle in the Vehicle Assembly Building as it is prepared for its STS-115 mission. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

CAPECANAVERAL - Workers are preparing shuttleAtlantis today for a trip to the launch pad next Monday, after it took adifferent kind of flight overnight: dangling from a crane in Kennedy SpaceCenter's vast Vehicle Assembly Building.

It rolled there from its hangar about 7:30 a.m. EDT Monday, a bit late, afterits transporter was slow to start. Cranes lifted it to a vertical positionabout 5 p.m. By this morning, it was expected to be lowered onto the mobilelauncher platform with its tank and solid rocket boosters.

Atlantis' scheduled Aug. 28 launch to the International SpaceStation will be its first mission since 2002.Sister ship Discovery handled the first two flights after the 2003 Columbia accident.

"It's very exciting for me, personally," said heat-shield tile designer JimEasey, who works for United Space Alliance. "I worked real hard at school andtried to get a job here at Kennedy Space Center specifically. And I've beenhere for about nine months, and I've seen Discovery roll over and launch andreturn, and now it's my first time seeing Atlantis do that."

Atlantis' flight marks the return of serious construction of the space station.The ship will carry a two-partgirder with a new set of solar-panel wings.

It was heavy even without its cargo.

"One of the last things they do before the orbiter leaves is weigh it, andAtlantis weighed 189,890 pounds," United Space Alliance spokeswoman Tracy Yatessaid.
Like Discovery, it got some new hardware for its flight: all-new front windows,stronger main landing gear tires, 1,059 new tiles and 4,868 gap fillers. NASAhas replaced gap fillers between tiles so they won't come loose and stick outof the heat shield, posing a problem for the ship's super-hot reentry into theatmosphere.

Jean Wright of United Space Alliance had a hand in making sure the ship wasprotected from temperature extremes. Her boss told her he had a cool job forher.

"He asked me if I wanted to go sew inside the nose landing gear," said Wright,one of the technicians who stitches thermal blankets for the orbiters. "So overtwo days, I was up there, wedged for about 14 hours. And we do a lot of handsewing, so the thermal barriers are all sewn in the nose landing gear doors."

She and Easey were among crowds of workers who came out to see Atlantis make aleisurely trip in the morning sun. The ship paused halfway so a group couldpose for a picture in front of it. Others snapped photos of one another withcameras and cell phones.

"Even though I've seen this program for over 20 years, I'm still in awe everytime I see it come out," Wright said. "Every time."

Published under license from FLORIDATODAY. Copyright ? 2006 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this materialmay be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

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Chris Kridler
Contributing Writer

Chris Kridler is a writer, editor, photographer and storm chaser who authored a group of storm-chasing adventure novels called Storm Seekers. As a reporter covering space, her subjects have included space shuttle missions, the Mars Rovers from California’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and a Soyuz launch and mission from Kazakhstan and Russia. Much of that work was published through her longtime column at Florida Today. Her photographs have been featured in magazines and books, including the covers of The Journal of Meteorology, the book Winderful, and the Wallace and Hobbs Atmospheric Science textbook. She has also been featured in Popular Photography. Kridler started chasing tornadoes in 1997, and continues the adventure every spring in Tornado Alley.