Spaceflight Now

NASA formally sets July 8 for final space shuttle launch

Posted: June 28, 2011

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A look inside today's flight readiness review. Credit: NASA
Senior NASA officials held the final space shuttle flight readiness review at the Kennedy Space Center today and affirmed plans to launch Atlantis next week as scheduled.

"We set July 8 for the launch," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations. "We had a very thorough review."

Atlantis will deliver a year's worth of provisions to proactively stock the shelves of the International Space Station while NASA awaits commercial firms SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to begin routinely servicing the outpost with resupply missions.

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

Despite today's meeting representing yet another "last" on the road the final space shuttle mission, Gerstenmaier said there were no special commemorations to mark the event.

"The teams have done a great job, I think they did a tremendous job today of staying on point talking about what we needed to talk about, getting ready for the mission, getting ready for the launch and make sure we're really ready to go do this mission like we've done the missions before. So there wasn't much fanfare, no unique activities at all with the FRR."

With just 10 days left until launch, preparations are going smoothly at pad 39A as technicians get the ship prepped for blastoff.

"Atlantis is in great shape out at the pad," said launch director Mike Leinbach. "The remaining pad flow is very, very standard for us. We got our ordnance connected up last night. We'll close the payload bay doors for flight tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow evening and Thursday morning we'll pressurize the high-pressure gas bottles on the orbiter. We'll close out the aft by Friday and we'll be able to take all three days of the holiday weekend off, come back to pick up the launch countdown on Tuesday the 5th. It's going to be a very, very easy pad flow for us the remainder of the way."

Atlantis' four astronauts are scheduled to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday, July 4 at 2:45 p.m. EDT. Countdown clocks in the launch control center begin ticking Tuesday, July 5 at 1 p.m. EDT.

The official launch window for the Friday, July 8 shot at getting space shuttle Atlantis into orbit for docking with the International Space Station has two "panes" and extends for 13 minutes and 18 seconds.

The first pane for the preferred Day 3 rendezvous with the space station extends from 11:21:46 to 11:31:46 a.m. EDT. The targeted liftoff time occurs in the middle of the period at 11:26:46 a.m. EDT, which is the exact moment when Earth's rotation carries the launch pad into the plane of the station's orbit.

An additional few minutes in the form a second pane of the launch window exists until 11:35:04 a.m. EDT. However, launching within that pane would lead to a less desirable Day 4 rendezvous and docking.