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Shuttle Atlantis Poised for Thursday Launch


The Shuttle Atlantis is on the launch pad and ready to lift off on Thursday. The crew is scheduled to ferry a European laboratory module to the International Space Station. VOA's Paul Sisco has more.

All seven astronauts are at Cape Canaveral in Florida reviewing procedures and awaiting their construction mission to the International Space Station.

Commander Stephen Frick said to a press gathering, "We're really excited to be here in Florida today, obviously on a tremendous day, and we hope that it stays like this all week long, to have our chance to launch in Atlantis on Thursday and bring the Columbus module up to the International Space Station. Obviously it has been a real long training flow for us, a long time building to this moment, and so we are just absolutely ready to go."

The primary goal of this mission is to install a European-built space laboratory called Columbus. The module is seven meters long and more than four and half meters in diameter. A Japanese laboratory is scheduled for delivery to the space station next year.

Atlantis pilot Alan Poindexter explains. "Columbus is the main contribution of the European Space Agency and it is the first pressurized module that is non-U.S. or non-Russian, and it adds a lot of laboratory space as well as interior volume to the space station."

The European Space Agency's Daniele Laurini takes us inside witha virtual trip. "I have a short animation. We are flying to the station. We are slowly entering into Columbus, and we zoom into the facilities that we have installed for launch. We have four major facilities dedicated to research in physiology, biology and material sciences, and in general experimentation. We slowly go back to node two and magically, through the laptop display, we go to the outside."

Atlantis astronauts plan three space walks to install the Columbus laboratory.

NASA managers say the weather looks good for Thursday's launch. If all goes as planned, Atlantis will return to the Kennedy Space Center on December 17th, wrapping up the fourth and final shuttle flight of the year.

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