CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? The weather is looking good forNASA?s planned final liftoff of the space shuttle Atlantis Friday.
Mostly clear skies should greetthe seaside launch pad here at Kennedy Space Center for the scheduled 2:20 p.m.EDT (1820 GMT) liftoff. The mission is expected to be the last for Atlantisand one of three final shuttle flights before NASA retires its three-orbiterfleet later this year.
Ground crews plan to beginloading Atlantis? giant orange external fuel tank with its super-chilled liquidhydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants Friday at 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 GMT).
?Good news as far as the weather is concerned,? said STS-132weather officer Todd McNamara during a Thursday briefing. ?Overall we?relooking at really good conditions for launch operations.?
McNamara predicted a 70 percent probability of favorableweather for thelaunch, with a small chance of low cloud ceilings preventing the shuttlefrom taking off. NASA needs cloudless skies so that range safety officials havea clear view to watch the entire launch.
Atlantis is slated to carry sixastronauts and a new Russian research room called the Mini ResearchModule-1 (MRM-1) to the International Space Station. The flight will alsodeliver a host of supplies and spare parts to help outfit the station for theera after NASA?s three-orbiter space shuttle fleet retires, planned for the endof the year.
In exchange for carrying the Russian module to space on itsspace shuttle, the United States gets to pack about 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg) ofcargo inside it for the trip to space. The load will include crew supplies,food, new laptops and new hardware for the station.
?The primary objective is the launching of MRM-1,? saidRobby Ashley, NASA?s STS-132 payload manager. ?After the cargo is removed, theywill transfer some experiment racks, it will be able to perform science.?
As the last planned flight of Atlantis, the upcoming launchwill be a momentousoccasion, though it?s also just business as usual at NASA, mission managerssaid.
?Every space shuttle flight is an amazing feat,? said NASAtest director Jeremy Graeber. ?There is a huge number of people that areinvolved and put a whole lot of hard work and heart and effort into it. We careabout each one exactly the same.?
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SPACE.com 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.