NASA confirms July 8 for last shuttle launch

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NASA confirms July 8 for last shuttle launch

Updated: 2011-06-29 10:25
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NASA confirms July 8 for last shuttle launch
Feature graphic on NASA's space shuttle, with illustrations and facts on its history, development, mission highlights and legacy. Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch on July 8, the final flight of NASA's 30-year Space Shuttle Program. [Photo/Agencies] 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - The last space shuttle launch ever is set for July 8.

NASA managers met at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday and confirmed Friday, July 8, as the launch date for Atlantis. The 12-day mission will close out the 30-year shuttle program.

NASA confirms July 8 for last shuttle launch

NASA's chief of space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, said there was no fanfare at the gathering, just a thorough look at the mission and all the problems resolved in recent weeks by the shuttle team.

Atlantis will fly to the International Space Station with a year's worth of supplies. That's enough to keep the outpost going in case private US companies fall behind in their effort to launch their own cargo ships. The first such flight is targeted for later this year.

"This flight is incredibly important to space station," Gerstenmaier told reporters. "The cargo that is coming up on this flight is really mandatory."

Four veteran astronauts will be aboard Atlantis for this grand finale.

NASA spent the past week testing a new fuel valve installed in one of Atlantis' main engines to stop a leak found during a fueling test. A small particle was found in the removed valve and likely contributed to the leak, Gerstenmaier said.

Technicians also X-rayed support brackets on the external fuel tank. No cracking was discovered. The testing was ordered after cracks popped up on the struts on Discovery's tank last November. Repairs took care of the problem on Discovery and also Atlantis.

Launch time for the last flight is 11:26 am As many as 500,000 to 750,000 people are expected to descend on the area to watch Atlantis blast off, said launch director Mike Leinbach.

As for the shuttle work force, thousands more will lose their jobs once Atlantis flies.

"The mood is getting more and more somber as you walk down the hall," Leinbach said. "The end is just weeks away now, where it used to be years away."

NASA is under direction to aim beyond Earth's orbit, ultimately sending astronauts to an asteroid or Mars. That's why the agency is retiring its three remaining shuttles to museums.

Up at the space station, meanwhile, the six astronauts had to briefly hide out in their parked lifeboats Tuesday because of an unidentified piece of space junk that passed within 1,100 feet (335 meters). That's the closest that debris has ever come to the orbiting outpost, Gerstenmaier said.

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Comment by Mother of Seven on June 29, 2011 at 2:43am
By Denise Chow
updated 6/28/2011 6:49:00 PM ET 2011-06-28T22:49:00

This story was updated at 4:51 p.m. EDT.

It's official: NASA's last space shuttle launch in history is set to blast off from Florida on July 8.

Senior agency officials made the decision today (June 28) after an extensive review of the space shuttle Atlantis, which will fly the upcoming mission to the International Space Station, as well as the shuttle's four-astronaut crew and ground teams.  

Atlantis is slated to liftoff from its seaside Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8 at 11:26 a.m. EDT (1526 GMT). [Gallery: Shuttle Atlantis' Last Launch Pad Trek]

NASA is retiring its three space shuttles this year to make way for a new space exploration program aimed at sending astronauts to asteroids and other deep space targets. The shuttles Discovery and Endeavour have already flown their final missions.

Atlantis' 12-day mission will deliver vital spare parts to the space station to help keep the orbiting lab going after the shuttle era ends. It will be NASA's 135th shuttle mission since the program began 30 years ago.

"We're really looking forward to achieving this mission, putting the station where it needs to be and finishing strong with STS-135," Mike Moses, chair of the shuttle's mission management team, said in a news briefing this afternoon.

During today's meeting, top NASA shuttle officials reviewed outstanding issues from the agency's previous spaceflight — the shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission — to make sure they won't impact Atlantis' flight.

"We had a very thorough review," said Bill Gersteinmaier, NASA's space operations chief. "We spent quite a bit of time going over each activity going on on this flight. This flight is incredibly important to the space station. The cargo coming up on this flight is really mandatory. The teams did a tremendous job today of staying on point, getting ready for the mission, and getting ready for the launch."

They also checked on repairs to a main engine fuel valve on Atlantis that leaked during a recent fueling test on June 15. The leaky valve was replaced and technicians at the launch pad completed a successful test on the new valve, NASA officials said.

Officials also checked modifications to Atlantis' external fuel tank, reinforcements designed to prevent the type of cracks found on the shuttle Discovery's tank before its own final launch earlier this year. Discovery's liftoff was delayed months due to the cracks, but eventually launched flawlessly on Feb. 24.

The results of Atlantis' fueling test earlier this month showed no cracks or other anomalies, agency officials said.

Atlantis' final astronaut crew, which includes commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim, will arrive at Kennedy Space Center on July 4 at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT).

With the shuttle program's impending end in sight, NASA officials also highlighted their admiration for the ground teams' hard work to round out the program on a high note.

"That professionalism and their dedication to the program over many, many years comes an internal commitment to do the job right," said shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach. "I know they're going to do their job as perfectly as they have in the past. Yes, they know the end is coming. We've known this is coming for a long time, but nevertheless, the end of the program — something a lot of these folks have been with for 30 years — the mood is getting more and more somber. The end is just weeks away instead of years away. It's getting more somber."

You can follow Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Visit for complete coverage of Atlantis's final mission STS-135or follow us @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Comment by Mother of Seven on June 29, 2011 at 2:42am

NASA clears last space shuttle for July 8 blast-off

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida | Tue Jun 28, 2011 11:23pm BST


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA managers cleared space shuttle Atlantis on Tuesday for a July 8 launch, approving it for a cargo run to the International Space Station and the final flight in the 30-year-old shuttle program.


Lift-off of the shuttle manned by a minimal crew of four astronauts is set for 11:26 a.m. EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


The 12-day flight was added to the shuttle's schedule last year to buy time in case NASA's newly hired cargo delivery companies have problems getting their spacecraft into orbit.


Atlantis will be delivering a year's worth of food, clothing, science equipment and supplies to the orbital outpost, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that circles 220 miles above Earth.


"This flight is incredibly important to the space station. The cargo that is coming up on this flight is really mandatory," said NASA's spaceflight chief Bill Gerstenmaier.


Earlier on Tuesday, the threat of an orbital debris impact interrupted the station's preparations for Atlantis' visit. NASA learned that an unidentified piece of space debris was likely to pass close to the station and told the crew to seek shelter in the station's two Russian Soyuz escape capsules.


Typically, the station maneuvers to avoid potential debris impacts, but the notice came just 14 hours before the closest approach, too late to plan and conduct an avoidance maneuver.

"We think it came within about 335 meters (1,100 feet) of the space station. It was probably the closest object that's actually come by (the) space station," Gerstenmaier said.


The six station crewmembers divided into two groups of three and sealed themselves into the Soyuz capsules about 20 minutes before the object came closest to the station, which occurred at 8:08 a.m. EDT. It was only the second time in the station's history that crews had to seek shelter in their "lifeboats" for an orbital debris threat.

The station's two U.S. crewmembers are preparing for a spacewalk during shuttle's Atlantis' eight-day stay, a job normally undertaken by the visiting astronauts.

NASA, however, has been trying to keep the Atlantis crew's training as simple as possible, as the four shuttle astronauts already are tasked to do the work of the six or seven people normally assigned to shuttle flights.

The U.S. space agency pared down the crew size to accommodate the smaller Russian Soyuz spacecraft that would be used to fly the Atlantis astronauts home in case the shuttle is too damaged to attempt landing.

Since the 2003 Columbia accident, NASA has had a second shuttle on standby for a rescue mission if needed. Atlantis, however, is the 135th and last shuttle to fly, with no backup shuttle in waiting.

The United States is ending the shuttle program to save its $4 billion annual operating costs and use the money to develop spaceships that can travel beyond the station, such as to the moon, asteroids and eventually to Mars.

Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp. are scheduled to begin cargo deliveries to the station next year. NASA is hoping commercial companies will be able to fly astronauts as well, though those spaceships are not expected to be ready for at least four to five years.

In the meantime, NASA will pay Russia to fly its astronauts to the station at a cost of more than $50 million per person.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Anthony Boadle)


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