Atlantis Shuttle Crew Ready for Mission, Launch Rehearsal

Atlantis Shuttle Crew Ready for Mission, Launch Rehearsal
The STS-115 crew gets instructions about using the slidewire baskets for emergency egress from the space shuttle on the pad on Aug. 9, 2006. (Image credit: NASA/Cory Husten.)

With lessthan three weeks remaining before they rocket toward the International SpaceStation (ISS), six astronautsare looking forward to climbing inside their Atlantis shuttle Thursday for a launch dressrehearsal at NASA's Florida spaceport.

Flightcontrollers began counting down toward a mock liftoff at 8:00 a.m. EDT (1200GMT) today, with Atlantis' STS-115commander Brent Jett and his crewmates eager to practice the final hours oftheir upcoming launch.

"We'relooking forward to a good practice countdown tomorrow," Jett told reportersWednesday at Atlantis' Pad 39Blaunch site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral.

Jett,STS-115 pilot Chris Ferguson and mission specialists JosephTanner, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Daniel Burbank and Steve MacLean - ofthe Canadian Space Agency - are going through a multi-day training session at KSCknown as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT). The session allowsthe astronauts, pad workers and flight controllers to practice flight and emergency escape procedures for the STS-115 crew's plannedAug. 27 launch.

Duringtheir mission, the STS-115 astronauts will deliver a 17-ton,two-segment addition for the space station's truss backbone, as wellas a pair of new solar arrays to be installed on the orbital laboratory's portside.

"This missionmarks the restart of the [ISS] assembly sequence," Jett said. "But it's justthat, it's just one of the assembly missions we have to get done."

NASA plansabout 15 shuttle flights to complete the ISS, where orbital construction hasbeen stalled since late2002 following the 2003Columbia tragedy, before retiring the remaining three orbiters - Atlantis, Discoveryand Endeavour- in 2010.

With threeplanned spacewalks - two of them back-to-back - alongside shuttle heat shieldinspections and the deployment of new solar panels outside the ISS, Atlantis' 11-daymission promises to be a challenging one for its astronaut crew.

"I think themost challenging thing for us on this flight is going to be our timeline," Jettsaid. "It's probably the most aggressive timeline that's been flown on theshuttle ever. We think we're ready for it, we've been training for it for fourand a half years."

NASAmanagers have called the STS-115 mission the most challenging to date for theshuttle program, though subsequent flights are expected to only increase incomplexity.

"Every crewlikes to say that 'Boy this is one of the most complex missions that we've everflown,'" Jett said. "They're all that way, and they will be that way until westop flying in 2010."

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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.