Space Shuttle Atlantis Cleared for Its Final Launch on Friday

Reverence Reigns Over NASA's Final Shuttle Missions
Morning breaks over Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida following the arrival of space shuttle Atlantis in preparation for its final flight, the STS-132 mission in May 2010. (Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller)

This story was updated at 12:47 p.m. ET.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA has cleared the space shuttle Atlantis for its finalplanned launch on Friday afternoon as the U.S. space agency prepares to retireits aging three-shuttle fleet later this year.

Atlantisand a crew of six astronauts are poised to launch toward the InternationalSpace Station in what will be the 25-year-old shuttle's 32nd and last plannedspaceflight. Liftoff is set for Friday at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 GMT) from NASA'sKennedy Space Center here.

"We're ready to launch Atlantis and get this missionunder way," said shuttle integration manager Mike Moses in a briefing nearthe seaside launch site. He spoke after meeting with other mission managers at afinal launch readiness review panel where the team gave Atlantis a unanimous ?go?for the Friday launch.

?Everything?s looking great,? Moses said. ?The vehicle?sdoing great out on the pad.

There's a 70 percent chance of good weather for Atlantis'Friday launch, NASA officials said.

?Overall the weather looks favorable, not only for prelaunchoperations today and tomorrow, but also for the launch on Friday,? said STS-132weather officer Todd McNamara. The only concern is a small risk of a low cloudceiling appearing over the launch site and preventing liftoff.

If NASA must delay for any reason, a similar weatherforecast holds for the next two days, when the team can try again.

Atlantis'upcoming flight is the first of three final space shuttle missions ? onefor each of NASA's remaining orbiters ? scheduled before the reusable spaceplane fleet is retired. The shuttles Discovery and Endeavour are slated to maketheir final flights in September and November, respectively.

"It's been a glorious career," Moses said ofAtlantis' looming final spaceflight. "It's a bittersweet time, but like Isaid, the teams are focused on the launch here."

Atlantis is set to lift off from Launch Pad 39A on the 132ndshuttle mission of NASA's nearly 30-year shuttle program.

?It?s the type of thing where when you?re alone and thinkingabout it, yeah it kind of hits you,? NASA launch director Mike Leinbach said ofthe end of Atlantis? run. ?But when you?re on console, like me and my launchteam, we have a job to do and we?re going to do that job.?

Skywatchers on Earth will have a last chance during themission to see Atlantis from Earth as it approaches the space station, as wellas after it undocks. [Howto see shuttle Atlantis from Earth.]

The shuttle's all-veteran astronaut crew, commanded by U.S.Navy Capt. Ken Ham, plans to perform three spacewalks during the 12-day missionto deliver the new Russian research module, called Rassvet (which means"Dawn" in Russian), and other vital spare parts.  

The six astronauts on the space station made room for thenew Russian research module on Wednesday by movinga Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft to a new parking spot, clearing an Earth-facingberth on the Russian Zarya control module for Rassvet.

So far, preparations for Atlantis' launch have gonesmoothly. The countdown began Tuesday afternoon and Atlantis' astronaut crewhas been at the launch site since Monday.

"The countdown is going exceedingly smoothly," Leinbachsaid. "Team Atlantis is really hitting its stride and is clicking on alleight cylinders...We're ready to give it our best shot Friday." is providing complete coverage of Atlantis'STS-132 mission to the International Space Station with Senior Writer ClaraMoskowitz in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Managing Editor Tariq Malik based in NewYork. Click herefor shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.