NASA aims for July 8 launch of last-ever shuttle flight

May 20, 2011
US space shuttle Atlantis, pictured on May 18, as it is prepared for its final flight. NASA said it is aiming for a July 8 lift-off.

NASA said Friday it is aiming to launch the space shuttle Atlantis on July 8 for the last-ever flight of the 30-year-old American shuttle program.

The 12-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will be staffed by a smaller than usual crew of four American astronauts, the US space agency said.

"NASA's final space shuttle flight is targeted to launch July 8 at about 11:40 am (1540 GMT) from the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida," a statement said.

"Four veteran astronauts will fly aboard shuttle Atlantis to deliver supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station."

An official decision on the launch date and time will be announced following a flight readiness review meeting on June 28, NASA said.

Atlantis was initially set to launch in late June but was postponed after technical woes delayed the Endeavour mission. The shuttle Endeavour launched Monday and is currently docked at the ISS.

The three-decade US shuttle program will end after Atlantis's mission, leaving Russia's space capsules as the sole taxi to the ISS until private companies can come up with a new spacecraft, possibly by 2015.

NASA said some extra tests would be done to ensure that Atlantis is ready to fly, including a special examination of the support beams, known as stringers, for the external fuel tank.

US space shuttle Atlantis on May 18, is lifted in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. NASA said Friday it is aiming to launch the space shuttle Atlantis on July 8 for the last-ever flight of the 30-year-old American shuttle program.

Cracks in the stringers delayed the Discovery mission in November 2010, though it eventually was cleared for launch in February and became the first shuttle of the space flying fleet to officially enter retirement.

"There are several non-standard activities, including a tanking test followed by an X-ray inspection of a section of the external fuel tank, which may affect Atlantis' processing," NASA said.

A key objective of the Atlantis mission to the orbiting lab is to "deliver an experiment designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space," NASA said.

The shuttle will be commanded by NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who has flown on two previous shuttle missions. Other crew members will be pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

The Atlantis mission, STS-135, will be the 33rd space flight for that particular shuttle and the 135th and final mission for NASA's space shuttle program.

After the final shuttle missions, the three spacecraft in the flying fleet and the prototype Enterprise will be sent to different museums across the country.

Discovery, the oldest in the group, was the first shuttle to retire after its final journey to the ISS ended in March. Endeavour, the youngest, and flew its first space mission in 1991 and is currently on its final mission to the ISS.

The other original members of the fleet include Enterprise, which never flew in space; Challenger, which exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986; and Columbia, which disintegrated on its return to Earth in 2003.

A total of 14 astronauts were killed in the Columbia and Challenger disasters.

With the US shuttle program closing, the world's astronauts will rely on Russia's space capsules for transit to the ISS at a cost of more than $50 million per seat.

Explore further: Shuttle 'Go' for Dec. 6 Launch

Related Stories

Shuttle 'Go' for Dec. 6 Launch

December 4, 2007

Space shuttle Atlantis is set to begin its launch countdown for the STS-122 mission with a flurry of activities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis is scheduled to launch at 4:31 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. ...

NASA revises shuttle launch dates

February 18, 2008

The U.S. space agency has revised the launch dates for space shuttle flights during the second half of 2008, necessitated by the delayed STS-122 launch.

NASA delays shuttle Endeavour launch to April 29

April 4, 2011

NASA on Monday said it will delay the shuttle Endeavour's launch by 10 days, setting a new date for April 29 to avoid a conflict with a Russian capsule's arrival at the International Space Station.

NASA Updates Shuttle Target Launch Date for Hubble Mission

June 7, 2007

NASA managers officially are targeting Sept. 10, 2008, for the launch of the fifth and final space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 11-day flight, Atlantis' seven astronauts will repair ...

Recommended for you

Video: A colorful 'landing' on Pluto

January 20, 2017

What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip ...

The evolution of massive galaxy clusters

January 20, 2017

Galaxy clusters have long been recognized as important laboratories for the study of galaxy formation and evolution. The advent of the new generation of millimeter and submillimeter wave survey telescopes, like the South ...

Image: Wavemaker moon Daphnis

January 20, 2017

The wavemaker moon, Daphnis, is featured in this view, taken as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made one of its ring-grazing passes over the outer edges of Saturn's rings on Jan. 16, 2017. This is the closest view of the small ...

Freeze-dried food and 1 bathroom: 6 simulate Mars in dome

January 20, 2017

Crammed into a dome with one bathroom, six scientists will spend eight months munching on mostly freeze-dried foods—with a rare treat of Spam—and have only their small sleeping quarters to retreat to for solace.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Justsayin
not rated yet May 31, 2011
July 4th would have been better.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.