Space Shuttle Atlantis, Cargo Prepared for March Launch

Shuttle Atlantis Set For Thursday Trek to Launch Pad
The overhead sling lowers the orbiter Atlantis next to the external tank and solid rocket boosters stacked on the mobile launcher platform (MLP) below on Feb. 7, 2007. (Image credit: NASA/Amanda Diller.)

NASAengineers have attached the shuttleAtlantis to its immense external fuel tank and twin rocket boosters,bringing the spacecraft one step closer to a Marchlaunch towards the InternationalSpace Station (ISS).

Teams of shuttleworkers are going over the multitude of electrical and mechanical connectionsbetween the 122-foot (37-meter) orbiter and its 15-story external tank, whichstand poised in launch position inside NASA's cavernous Vehicle AssemblyBuilding (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida [image].

NASAspokesperson George Diller told today that the standard seriesof engineering checks between Atlantis and its external tank, known as the shuttleinterface test, should be complete by Monday. The nearly 100-ton shuttle, whichrolled from its maintenance hangar to the VAB on Wednesday [image],is then slated to make the slow trek to NASA's Pad 39A launch site at 7:00 a.m.EST (1200 GMT) on Feb. 14, he added.

Atlantis isdue to launch spaceward on March15 with a six-astronautcrew and a hefty pair of new solar arrays bound for the ISS. Commanded byveteran spaceflyer Rick Sturckow, Atlantis' STS-117astronauts plan to stage three spacewalks outside the ISS to install the17.5-ton Starboard 3/Starboard 4 (S3/S4) solar array trusses to right side ofthe orbital laboratory's metallic backbone.

Built byBoeing, the nearly 45-foot (13-meter) integrated truss segments carry two solararrays that, when deployed, will have a wingspan of about 240 feet (73 meters).The element is a near mirror-image of the space station's Port3/Port 4 solar arrays installed by NASA's STS-115astronaut crew in September2006 and will balance out the orbital laboratory's current lopsided profile[image].

Boeingspokesperson Susan Wells told that the S3/S4 space stationtrusses are already packed away in a NASA cargo container, and will be hauledto the space agency's Pad 39A launch site soon to await Atlantis' arrival.

NASA's STS-117mission is the first of up to five plannedshuttle flights to continue ISS construction in 2007.

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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.