Final preparations are under way for NASA's planned launchnext week of the space shuttle Atlantis to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.
The weather looks promising for the shuttle's plannedliftoff May 11 at 2:01 p.m. EDT (1802 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center(KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters predicted an 80percent chance of favorable weather that day, with a small risk of clouds orshowers that could prevent a launch. If the shuttle is unable to liftoff Monday, NASA can try again May 12 and May 13, though there is only a 60percent chance of favorable weather those days.
"Overall for launch weather here at KSC, it looks beston the first day and then the weather starts to deteriorate," Winters saidtoday during a briefing.
Atlantis is standing ready at Launch Pad 39A, where groundcrews are making final checks and preparations of its payload ? a cacheof new and replacement hardware and instruments to install on Hubble.
"Currently we're just in the final stages of payloadcloseouts in final preparation for payload bay door closure thisafternoon," said shuttle payload manager Debbie Hahn. "Basicallywe're in great posture for this launch attempt."
The 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope is losing steam. Thoughit is still in use by scientists, it only has one working instrument remainingonboard. The new equipment set to be installed should give it a much neededboost in longevity and ability to collect data.
The shuttle's seven-astronautcrew plans to arrive at Cape Canaveral this afternoon aboard NASA jetsflown in from Houston's Johnson Space Center.
Veteran spaceflyer Scott Altman will command the 11-daymission, which is set to include five spacewalks to overhaul the orbitingobservatory. The astronauts plan to install a new camera and other newinstruments, as well as replace broken gyroscopes and old batteries. This lastplanned upgrade should extend Hubble's life by at least five years.
In case anything should go seriously wrong during themission, a second space shuttle ? Endeavour ? is ready to lift off from LaunchPad 39B to rescuethe crew if needed. This backup plan is unusual, because most shuttlemissions are headed to the International Space Station, where astronauts cantake shelter if there is trouble with their own spacecraft.
SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-125with senior editor Tariq Malik at Cape Canaveral and reporter Clara Moskowitzin New York. Click herefor mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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