CAPE CANAVERAL - Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled toroll out to one of Kennedy Space Center's twin launch pads Thursday as NASApresses ahead with preparationsfor the planned March 15 launch of an International SpaceStation assembly mission.
Mounted atop its mobilelauncher platform, the 4.5-million-pound shuttle will be moved to Kennedy SpaceCenter's Launch Complex 39A by a giant flatbed tractor originally built to haulSaturn5 moon rockets.
Atlantis is scheduled toemerge from the 52-story KSC Vehicle Assembly Building around 7 a.m. EST Thursday;the 3 1/2-mile trip to the pad is expected to take around six hours.
The rollout was delayed oneday so engineers could tackle a technical issue with the shuttle's right-handsolid rocket booster [image].
One of three sensors thatmonitor chamber pressure within the booster produced erratic readings duringroutine pre-launch testing in the assembly building. The sensor was removed andwill be replaced with a spare after the shuttle reaches the pad.
The one-day rollout delayis not expected to push back the planned March 15 launch of Atlantis and asix-man station construction crew.
"At this point, thereare no technical issues that would prohibit us from targeting a March15 launch," KSC spokeswoman Jessica Rye said.
Led by mission commander RickSturckow, the Atlantisastronauts aim to deliver a new 17.5-ton station truss segment [image]equipped with a new set of massive American solar wings. Now folded up inblanket boxes, the arrays will stretch 240 feet from tip-to-tip once unfurledin orbit.
The solar wing set is thethird of four that will generate the electricity needed to run U.S. stationsystems. Its arrays will be deployed from the end of the 45-foot-long trusssegment, which will be latched to the starboard side of the truss. The segmentis identical to a portside girder delivered to the station during a shuttlemission last September.
Nestled in a 65-foot talltransportation canister, the prime payload for the upcoming mission wasdelivered to the launch pad earlier this week [image]and will be installed in the cargo bay of shuttle Atlantis next Monday.
The Atlantis astronautswill fly to KSC next week to take part in emergency training at the launch padand a two-day practice countdown. PilotLee Archambault and mission specialists James Reilly, Steven Swanson,Patrick Forrester and John Olivas round out the crew.
An official launch datewill be selected late this month at the conclusion of a traditional two-dayflight readiness review. As it stands, Atlantis and its crew are set to blastoff at 6:43 a.m. March 15. It will be the 118th mission for the shuttle programand the 28th for Atlantis.
Landing is scheduled at 1:54a.m. EST March 26.
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