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Atlantis Shuttle Crew Returns to Florida Spaceport

Atlantis Shuttle Crew Returns to Florida Spaceport
The crew of mission STS-115 stop to talk to the media after arriving at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility to prepare for a second launch attempt on Sept. 6 to the International Space Station. Seen here, left to right, are mission specialists Steven MacLean and Joseph Tanner, commander Brent Jett, pilot Christopher Ferguson, and mission specialists Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Daniel Burbank.
(Image: © NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

Six shuttle astronauts are back atNASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and preparing for launch less than a weekafter leaving the Florida spaceport as a tropicalstorm headed their way.

Led by shuttleflight veteran Brent Jett, the STS-115 astronaut crew arrived at KSC's ShuttleLanding Facility early Saturday in NASA T-38 jets as they prepare to rocket spaceward aboardthe Atlantis orbiter on Wednesday at 12:29 p.m. EDT (1629 GMT).

"LastTuesday, as the center here was preparing for TropicalStorm Ernesto, we were flying back to Houston," Jett told reporters, addingthat they flew over Atlantis as it was hauled off its launch pad and were ready for anextended delay. "I think all of us are really happy that just four days laterwe're back here and have a shot at this launch window."

NASA willstart the countdown for Atlantis' STS-115mission, which will deliver newsolar arrays and massive trusses to the International SpaceStation (ISS), at 8:00 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) on Sunday. The mission's launchwindow closes on Sept. 8.

"These guysnever cease to amaze me," Jett said of the workers, engineers and mission managerspreparing their spacecraft for launch. "They're dedicated, they work hard andthey're good at what they do."

Atlantis'flight has been delayed several times in the last week from its initial Aug. 27liftoff. A powerfullightning strike to the orbiter's Pad 39B launch site delayed the spaceshot as engineers checked Atlantis'launch systems for signs of damage to verify to spacecraft's health.

Ernesto passedover KSC late Wednesday as a tropical depression, but forced NASA to closethe launch facility during the storm and conduct a series of inspections tocheck for damage.

Launchofficials even hauled Atlantis off Pad 39B to shelter the spacecraft in KSC'scavernous, 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) during the storm, thoughErnesto weakened enough to allow the shuttle to return to its launch site onTuesday.

"I alsopromised a very good story, and the story starts with the lightning bolt thathit the shuttle [pad], followed by Ernesto that teased us into a...dancingshuttle two-step," said STS-115mission specialist Steven MacLean, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut,adding that the best bits - such as deploying the space station's new solarwings - are yet to come. "I expect that you'll be on the edge of your seats."

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