Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Endeavour on track for Friday launch

NASA managers this morning gave a unanimous "go" for Endeavour to proceed toward a 3:47 p.m. Friday launch of the orbiter's 25th and final flight, a planned 14-day mission to the International Space Station.

"Everything's in great shape," said Mike Moses, chair of the pre-launch Mission Mangement Team.

Launch pad 39A has been cleared of nonessential personnel as teams load liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the shuttle's fuel cell system, which will produce electricity to power systems during flight and water as a byproduct that is transferred to the space station.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft launched this morning from Kazakhstan and is scheduled to dock Friday morning soon after the shuttle has been fueled -- a necessary milestone for Endeavour's countdown to continue.

Among other preparations being worked are the planned visits for the launch by President Barack Obama and Endeavour commander Mark Kelly's wife, U.S . Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who's NASA plane left Houston this morning. The congresswoman has been rehabilitating since being shot in the head Jan. 8.

Managers said the two special guests wouldn't distract launch teams.

"It should be fairly benign to us other than the amount of entourage that comes with the president and aircraft arriving late to the launch center," Moses said of Obama's visit.

"It's a little bit of a challenge for us, but the team is not distracted by that," said Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach. "We're in great shape, we're ready to go."

Another potential issue is the huge crowds expected for the launch, between 500,000 and 750,000 people, according to law enforcement officials. If Friday's launch scrubs, extremely long commutes home could make it difficult for launch teams to be rested and ready for another attempt the next day.

The weather forecast remains unchanged from Tuesday, with an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions during Friday's 10-minute launch window.

Strong storms are still expected late Thursday afternoon or evening that could impact countdown preparations, but Leinbach said delays of hours opening the launch pad's rotating service tower would not delay fueling Friday morning.

"We're looking forward to Friday's launch," said Moses.

IMAGE: Endeavour on launch pad 39A this morning at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Michael R. Brown, FLORIDA TODAY

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