Friday, May 01, 2009

Live at KSC: NASA Picks Up Countdown Preps

LIVE IMAGES: Refresh this page for updates and the latest still images from cameras in the Launch Complex 39 area at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA and shuttle fleet operators are starting up preps today to pick up a launch countdown to the planned May 11 launch of shuttle Atlantis and seven astronauts on a fifth and final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

And out at launch pad 39A, technicians are rigging up small pyrotechnic devices that will be used to separate Atlantis from its mobile launcher platform, solid rocket boosters and external tank in flight.

Atlantis and its seven-member crew got a green light Thursday to launch at 2:01 p.m. May 11. The date and time was firmed up at the conclusion of an executive-level Flight Readiness Review.

NASA and contractor engineers and managers today are begin preparations to pick up a three-day launch countdown next Friday -- the same day mission commander Scott Altman and his crew plan to jet in to Kennedy Space Center for final launch preparations. The crew includes pilot Gregory "Ray J" Johnson and five mission specialists: robot arm operator Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Drew Feustel, Mike Good and Mike Massimino.

The astronauts will go into quarantine on Monday at Johnson Space Center in Houston -- a standard pre-launch practice.

Out at launch pad 39A, engineers completed an end-to-end communications test with the payload for the flight -- a variety of Hubble Space Telescope gear that includes two new state-of-the-art science instruments, six new batteries and six new gyroscopes. The gear will be installed during five spacewalks that will be staged on consecutive days during an 11-day mission.

The spacesuits that will be used on those excursions were stowed in the orbiter on Thursday.

Coming up this weekend: repairs to a radiator that was damaged when a wrench socket was inadvertently dropped during routine launch preparations. The repairs will be done on Saturday.

Over on pad 39B, shuttle Endeavour is being prepared to launch on a rescue mission if Atlantis sustains critical damage during its mission. Technicians are stowing spacesuits in the orbiter's airlock and the shuttle is on schedule for a launch that would take place seven days after Atlantis sets sail.

The chance that a rescue mission will be required is low: one in 400. If a rescue mission is not required, Endeavour will roll-around to launch pad 39A on May 29 and then be launched June 13 on a mission to deliver the third and final segment of the Japanese Kibo science research facility to the International Space Station.

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