Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Atlantis ready to roll Wednesday morning

Space shuttle Atlantis now is expected to begin a slow roll to Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

That's six hours later than previously planned after technicians took time to swap out and retest two faulty range safety system cables.

The shuttle typically begins its 3.4-mile journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building just after midnight to take advantage of the calmest weather conditions during the six- to seven-hour journey.

A tracked transporter bearing the 12-million pound load of the shuttle and its mobile launcher platform will crawl at less than 1 mph.

Atlantis is targeting a 4:04 p.m. Nov. 12 launch to the International Space Station, on an 11-day mission to deliver spare parts and conduct three spacewalks.

The mission is the sixth-to-last before NASA plans to retire its three shuttles, and the second-to-last for Atlantis.

Over the weekend, engineers detected lower-than-normal signal strength during tests on the shuttle's Flight Termination System, which would be used to destroy the shuttle's booster if the vehicle flew off course and endangered populated areas.

Cables that route electrical signals from shuttle computers to the small explosive devices were the culprit. Technicians opened one of eight hold-down posts on the Atlantis' mobile launcher platform to swap out the cables.

An earlier problem with a crane inside the 52-story assembly building delayed the shuttle's move to the launch pad from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday morning, managers will introduce reporters to the cargo that Atlantis will haul to the station.

The cargo of large spare parts - including two spare gyroscopes, two nitrogen tank assemblies, two pump modules and an ammonia tank assembly - is tentatively scheduled to be delivered to the launch pad and Atlantis on Oct. 29. A payload readiness review is scheduled this afternoon.

On Wednesday afternoon, NASA will show off modifications made to launch pad 39B - about a mile north of Atlantis' pad - to support the Oct. 27 Ares I-X launch. It's the first in a series of test flights for the rocket NASA is designing to carry astronauts to the moon and Mars after the shuttle's retirement.

IMAGE NOTE: In the Vehicle Assembly Building's High Bay 1 on Oct. 7, space shuttle Atlantis was slowly lowered by crane toward an external fuel tank and pair of solid rocket boosters secured to a mobile launcher platform. Next, Atlantis was attached, completing the stacking operation. Rollout of the completed shuttle stack to Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A, a significant milestone in launch processing activities, is planned for Oct. 14. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller.

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