Astronauts arrive as shuttle countdown starts ticking
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: May 8, 2009;
Updated with count start and crew arrival
Engineers late Friday started the shuttle Atlantis' countdown to blastoff Monday on a long-awaited fifth and final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. There are no technical problems of any significance at pad 39A and forecasters are predicting an 80 percent chance of good weather.
"All of our systems are in great shape," said NASA Test Director Jeremy Graeber. "We don't have any issues to report."
Atlantis commander Scott Altman, pilot Gregory C. Johnson, flight engineer Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, Andrew Feustel and Michael Good arrived at the spaceport around 5 p.m. to prepare for launch.
"Hello, Florida, it's great to be here at last!" Altman said on the runway after a flight from Houston. "It's been a long road to get here, we're all thrilled."
Originally scheduled for launch last October, the flight was put on hold when one of two channels in a critical data router aboard Hubble broke down three weeks before takeoff. Spare hardware was checked out, certified for flight and added to the crew's five-spacewalk mission, setting the stage for another launch try Monday.
"It's really cool for us to be here," Massimino said. "We've been training together for over two-and-a-half years. Our crew's gotten to know each other really well, we've become more like a family. For us to come down here and get a chance to get on the space shuttle in a couple of days and experience the dream of going into space and working on the Hubble together is something that we're really looking forward to."
Altman summed up the crew's feelings with an enthusiastic hand pump, saying "we are ready! Let's launch Atlantis!"
While the Florida forecast is favorable Monday, the weather in Spain could cause problems for NASA. Because of the trajectory Atlantis must fly to reach the space telescope, only one of NASA's three emergency runways in Europe is available in case of an engine failure or some other problem that might crop up during ascent.
At the designated trans-Atlantic landing site near Moron, Spain, forecasters are predicting a chance of showers within 20 nautical miles.
"There's a frontal boundary that's off to the west of the area there and pre-frontal weather tends to give you some showers," said shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters. "That is a concern for this launch. ... There is a decent chance of getting an isolated shower in the area."
NASA only has three days to get Atlantis off the pad or the flight will slip to May 22 because of an upcoming military operation on the U.S. Air Force Eastern Range that provides tracking and telemetry support for all rockets launched from Florida.
The forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather at the Kennedy Space Center, with conditions improving both days at Moron.