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Fri, Jun 08, 2007

Atlantis Away!

Clear Skies Greet Delayed Shuttle Launch

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 06.28.07 1945 EDT: It took three months longer than NASA had planned... but Atlantis is finally heading skyward, carrying the latest building blocks of the International Space Station, and putting NASA's soon-to-be retired shuttle program back on track.

During its 11-day mission to the ISS, the STS-117 crew will install a new truss segment, unfurl new solar arrays and fold up an old one -– similar to what was done on the past two missions.

“I jokingly call those flights the test flights for us,” said Kelly Beck, lead space station flight director for STS-117.

Original Reports

1930 EDT: The closeout crew has left the lauch pad and the astronauts continue final checks inside the orbiter during the built-in hold in the countdown.

When the hold ends at the nine-minute mark in the countdown, a computer on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center -- known as the Ground Launch Sequencer -- takes over management of the countdown and will monitor the space shuttle's systems until the final moments before launch.

At the 31-second mark, Atlantis' onboard computers take control and ignite the solid rocket boosters and orbiter main engines.

When Atlantis lifts off from Launch Pad 39A, it will be the first launch from that launch pad in over 4 years.

1725 EDT: We're just over two hours from the scheduled launch of the shuttle Atlantis... and it's looking like this is gonna happen. The STS-117 crew is at Launch Pad 39A, where a short elevator ride to the 195-foot level took the astronauts to the White Room... where one by one each crewmember was assisted by NASA's closeout crew in boarding the shuttle.

Commander Sturckow was first to be secured in his seat, followed by pilot Lee Archambault on the flight deck. As rest of the crew members were seated and strapped in, Sturckow began powering up the orbiter's general purpose computer for flight.

Stay tuned...

1230 EDT: Conditions continue to look favorable for tonight's scheduled launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. NASA reports the loading of Atlantis' external tank with 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen began at 9:55 am Friday morning, and the "topping off" of propellants into the tank will continue until launch.

All systems onboard the space shuttle are functioning normally and ready for liftoff, and the forecast continues to call for an 80 percent probability weather will not be factor for the launch. (A high-pressure system is expected to push off the clouds seen in the photo below, taken by NASA Friday morning -- Ed.)

Rick Sturckow will command the mission and Lee Archambault will serve as Atlantis' pilot. Mission Specialists Patrick Forrester, James Reilly, Steven Swanson, John Olivas and Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson round out the crew to deliver the S3/S4 starboard truss segments, batteries and another pair of solar arrays to the space station.

Anderson will replace Expedition 15 Flight Engineer Sunita Williams on station and Williams will return to Earth aboard Atlantis.

Mission STS-117 is the Space Shuttle Program's 21st mission to the International Space Station.

06.08.07 0001 EDT: We're at T-Minus 19 hours, 37 minutes before the planned Friday night launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, and all indications continue to point toward the delayed shuttle finally making it off the launch pad.

At a Countdown Status Briefing Thursday morning, NASA Test Director Steve Payne reported after many months of hard work, Atlantis is ready to launch. External tank inspections are in process and there are no issues being tracked.

Upon completion of all checks and inspections the access platforms will be retracted. The xenon lights will be lit, brightly illuminating the space shuttle, which can be seen from miles away.

"We're ready to fly tomorrow," said Payne following Thursday's meeting. Liftoff is scheduled for 7:38 pm EDT.

Roy Worthy, external tank and solid rocket booster vehicle manager, described the multitude of repairs performed on the external tank, in the wake of a freak February hailstorm. He thanked the hundreds of workers who labored days on end to complete the task of repairing the hundreds of divots in the tank's foam insulation.

STS-117 Payload Manager Robbie Ashley reported the payload was loaded into the orbiter's payload bay this week, and everything is ready and secured for launch.

In perhaps the best news of the meeting -- especially considering Atlantis' problematic experience with weather of late -- shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said there is now only a 20-percent chance that weather would affect the launch. A high pressure ridge has entered the area and although the typical Florida afternoon storms may develop, they should be west of Kennedy Space Center and not an issue at launch time.

A band of thunderstorms did cause NASA some tense moments Wednesday, though. "The shuttle's hail-battered fuel tank suffered no additional damage from yesterday's storms, but it was a relatively near miss," said Winters to WESH-2.

The forecast for Friday morning is for light winds, and a zero percent chance of weather prohibiting the loading of propellants into the external tank.

Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Lee Archambault have been practicing landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft (shown below) and the entire crew is making final preparations for liftoff.

Transfer of the hydrogen and oxygen reactants were completed Thursday morning. These reactants will be used by Atlantis to generate power during the mission. The umbilical unit was secured once the loading was accomplished.

The launch pad's rotating service structure rolled away from Atlantis at 10:30 pm Thursday night. When in place, the giant revolving enclosure is used to install payloads into the orbiter's cargo bay and provide protection from inclement weather.

Propellant loading is set to begin at about 9:30 am Friday morning, with the pumping of more than 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen into the vehicle's orange external tank.

Stay tuned to ANN for continuous updates throughout the day. This bird has been ground-bound for too long... it's time for her to fly.



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