NASA Clears Shuttle Atlantis for Friday Launch

Space Shuttle Atlantis Returns to Launch Pad After Repairs
The space shuttle Atlantis stands poised atop Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in this view from nearby cameras after a five hour, 45-minute return trip that began at 5:02 a.m. EDT on May 15, 2007. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. -- Preparations for a Friday evening liftoff of the shuttleAtlantis are still on track despite weather forecasts of possible hail in thedays leading up to launch.

"We feel very good about where we are with Atlantis," shuttle launch integrationmanager LeRoy Cain said Wednesday following a mission management review."We're ready to go and the team is ready to go and we're just reallyexcited to be at this point after a long and arduous spring."

Atlantis was originally set to launch March 15, but was delayeddue to hail damage to the orbiter's foam-covered external tankfollowing a late-February storm.

NASA's seven-astronaut crew now plans to launch Atlantis' STS-117construction mission to the International Space Station on Friday, June 8at 7:38 pm EDT (2338 GMT).

"Right now all looks good," said shuttle launch director MikeLeinbach. "Countdown is going well, no issues to report, and we're lookingforward to an on time launch Friday night."

Missionmanagers also found that the discovery of a slightly misaligned umbilical cordconnected to a fuel tank planned for use by the shuttle Endeavor in August willnot affect plans for Atlantis' space shot.

ForAtlantis, ?we reviewed the data, we did some analysis?and determined that weare ready to go fly with the system that we have on the launch pad," Cainsaid. ?We have a very solid flight rational and so we are very comfortable withwhere we are with that mission.?


Weatherforecasters predict a 30 percent chance that thunderstorms could delay Friday'slaunch, and that possibility is expected to increase to 40 percent on Saturdayand Sunday.

"We are expecting thunderstorms to occur over the next couple days duringthe afternoon, but they should progressively move to our west and clear out ofKennedy Space Center by launch day," said Pat Barrett of the U.S. AirForce 45th Weather Squadron.

There is also a possibility of half-inch hail and strong winds of over 55 mph(92km/h) in the days leading up to launch, Barrett said.

Leinbach said NASA is prepared to deal with that scenario should it occur.

"We'dkick off another round of inspections," he said. "We would ask eachproject to go and inspect their hardware just like we did three months ago,especially the external tank. Those inspections would likely take many, manyhours. Would that cause a delay? I'm not prepared to say right now."

NASA's STS-117 crew, led by shuttlecommander Rick Sturckow, is tasked with installing a new pair of solararray and trusses on the orbital laboratory.

Atlantis has an open launch window from June 8 to 12. After that, it will haveto stand down to allow the scheduled launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas rocketon June 14. The next launch window would then begin on June 17 and extendthrough mid-July.

  • Video Interplayer: Space Station Power Up with STS-117
  • STS-117 Power Play: Atlantis Shuttle Crew to Deliver ISS Solar Wings
  • The Great Space Quiz: Space Shuttle Countdown
  • Complete Shuttle Mission Coverage


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Staff Writer

Ker Than is a science writer and children's book author who joined as a Staff Writer from 2005 to 2007. Ker covered astronomy and human spaceflight while at, including space shuttle launches, and has authored three science books for kids about earthquakes, stars and black holes. Ker's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Nature News, New Scientist and Sky & Telescope, among others. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Irvine and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University. Ker is currently the Director of Science Communications at Stanford University.