June 29, 2011

Space Shuttle Atlantis Will Start Final Voyage July 8

NASA said on Tuesday that its final space shuttle launch will take place on July 8.

The space agency's managers met at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday and confirmed the date as the last launch for space shuttle Atlantis.

Atlantis will fly to the International Space Station with a year's worth of supplies.  NASA said this will be enough supplies to keep the station running if private U.S. companies fall behind in their effort to launch their own cargo ships.

"This flight is incredibly important to space station," NASA's chief of space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, told reporters. "The cargo that is coming up on this flight is really mandatory."

Atlantis will take four veteran astronauts aboard for its final flight.

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.  Gerstenmaier said a small particle was found in the removed valve and likely contributed to the leak.

Technicians also X-rayed support brackets on the external fuel tank and found no cracks. 

Launch director Mike Leinbach said as many as 500,000 to 750,000 people are expected to watch Atlantis' grand finale.

"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."

The July 8 ascent will be the 135th shuttle launch and the 33rd for Atlantis.

In total, 355 individuals will have flown 852 times on those 135 missions since the very first shuttle flight on April 12, 1981.

The five space shuttles used during the program have logged 537,114,061 miles, which is roughly similar to traveling from the Earth to the Sun and back three times.

Atlantis will add a further four million miles to that total.

Discovery was the first ship to complete its career in March, followed by Endeavour, which landed one last time on June 1.

All three shuttles will be retired to museums.


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