CAPECANAVERAL, Fla.- The seven astronauts to launch aboard NASA?s shuttle Atlantis this weekarrived at their seaside spaceport Monday as they prepare to haul a Europeanlaboratory to the International Space Station (ISS).
Shuttle commanderStephen Frick and his fellow crewmates touched down on a sunny runway hereat the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT) as NASA preparesto begin counting down to their Thursday launch toward the ISS.
?We hope itstays like this all week long to have our chance of launching Atlantis onThursday and bringing the Columbusmodule up to the International Space Station,? Frick told reporters on thetarmac.
Frick andhis STS-122 mission crew are slated to launch Dec. 6 at 4:31 p.m. EST (2131GMT) from Pad 39A to deliver the European Space Agency?s (ESA) Columbus lab. Currentforecasts predict an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions atliftoff.
?We flew byAtlantis out at Launch Pad 39A on the way in and it?s a beautiful sight,? saidshuttle pilot Alan Poindexter, thanking the teams of engineers and technicianswho readied the orbiter for flight. ?We?ll take good care of Atlantis, but it?sreally their ship and we appreciate them loaning it to us for a couple of weeks.?
Frick,Poindexter and their five crewmates expect to perform at least three spacewalksat the ISS to install Columbusduring their planned11-day mission. They will also swap out one member of the station?sExpedition 16 crew and upgrade the outpost?s exterior.
Missionspecialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Loveand ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel, of Germany,and Leopold Eyharts of France will launch aboard Atlantiswith Frick and Poindexter.
?I feel very honored to be a member of this crew who will bring up Columbus, for Europe,into space,? Schlegel said.
NASAofficials said shuttle engineers completed repairs today to three small dingson Atlantis? foam covered fuel tank. The damaged areas, which sat, on thecurving nose of 15-story tank above the shuttle?s perch, resembled shallow,thin knife cuts with the longest running just over 2 inches (5 centimeters) inlength.
The damagewas discovered Friday and repaired in stages, and should not impact plans forThursday?s planned launch, mission managers said.
?It?s justa really great time and we thank everyone for helping us get ready,? Melvinsaid.
NASAwill broadcast Atlantis' STS-122 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's STS-122 mission coverage and live NASA TV feed.
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