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Space Shuttle Set to Blast Off


The first of four shuttle missions to the International Space Station this year is set for late Friday.

The shuttle Atlantis is on the launch pad and everything looks good for Friday's scheduled evening liftoff. On Tuesday, NASA Test Director Steve Payne briefed reporters at the Kennedy Space Center.

"All our systems right now are in great shape,” Payne reports. “We are tracking no constraints that are show stoppers, teams are ready and everyone's eager to launch."

Atlantis was scheduled to fly in mid-March, but a freak hailstorm left thousands of pits on the external fuel tank delaying that space flight.

NASA weather officer Kathy Winter says there is a 30 percent chance weather could interfere with this week's launch. "For the coast here the weather looks reasonably promising for launch,” Winter says. “We do expect to see some afternoon thunderstorms in the area on launch day, but by launch time all that weather should move inland with the sea breeze."

Commander Rick Sturckow and rest of his crew arrived at the NASA space center in Florida on Monday. "If you can just get some weather for us like this for Friday evening we'll really appreciate that too,” Sturckow commented. “The crew is very excited to be here in Florida. We spent a long time training for this mission. We just flew by the launch pad 39 Alfa. It looks great."

This is scheduled as an 11-day mission. The seven spacemen plan to install a third pair of solar wings and another large module to the International Space Station.

There will be three, possibly four space walks, and astronaut Sunita 'Suni' Williams will be replaced as a crew member on the station, by flight engineer Clayton Anderson. This is the 21st NASA mission to the International Space Station. Three more are scheduled for this year.