CAPECANAVERAL - Destined to resume construction of the International SpaceStation, the Atlantis astronauts this week face a key pre-launch test - apractice countdown at Kennedy Space Center.
With about150 to 200 engineers operating computer consoles in the NASA Launch ControlCenter, shuttle skipper Brent Jett and five crewmates will board Atlantis atpad 39B on Thursday for a launch-day dress rehearsal.
Theexercise is one of the most important drills that any astronaut crew goesthrough during shuttle flighttraining. It's the only time astronauts don their partial pressurelaunch-and-entry suits and climb into their spaceship before the real deal onlaunch day.
"Thetraining events for this week mark the last milestones for us in flightpreparations," Jett said after the astronauts arrived Monday at KSC insleek T-38 training jets.
"We'relooking forward to a good week of training with the launch team, and a realsmooth countdown, or at least a real smooth practice countdown," he said."Once that's complete, we'll be real anxious to get back here at the endof the month and go into a real countdown and launch."
The Atlantislaunch remains scheduled for Aug. 27 around 4:30 p.m. A three-day launchcountdown is scheduled to begin on Aug. 24.
Shuttlepreparations are proceeding on schedule. NASA contractors finished a flightreadiness test of the shuttle's three liquid-fueled main engines during theweekend.
Under waythis week are preparations to load toxic rocket propellant into the shuttleorbiter and solid rocket booster systems, including:
- Hydraulic power units that enable the shuttle's boosters to be steered in flight.
- The shuttle's orbital maneuvering engines and 44 nose-and-tail steering jets.
- Three Auxiliary Power Units that enable the ship's main engines to be swiveled in flight. The devices also provide power to control the orbiter's wing flaps, landing gear, nose wheel steering and brakes during atmospheric re-entry and landing.
Thepropellant loading begins this weekend and continues through Monday.
TheAtlantis astronauts plan to fly the first space station assembly mission sincethe 2003 Columbia accident.
Their mainjob is to install a massive truss segment, expanding the metallic backbone ofthe station. The segment is outfitted with two giantsolar panels that will significantly boost the amount of electricity thatcan be generated to run station systems.
Jett hopesthe weather at the end of the month - a time when tropical storms andhurricanes typically form in the Atlantic - will be as good as the hot,relatively clear day that greeted them upon their arrival at KSC.
"Weought to save some of these days for the end of the month because I think we'llreally need them," Jett said. "If we get a day like today on Aug. 27,we'll be in good shape."
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