Monday, June 20, 2011

Atlantis astronauts savoring last shuttle flight

The four astronauts flying the last shuttle mission are trying to savor every moment of their preparation and flight, which is targeted to blast off July 8 from Kennedy Space Center.

"I think I speak on behalf of the crew, everyone in the astronaut office and I’m sure everybody here at KSC, that we’re just trying to savor the moment," mission commander Chris Ferguson said after the crew flew into the space center for several days of training.

"As our children and our children’s children ask us, we want to be able to say, 'We remember when... We remember when there was a space shuttle. We’re savoring every moment, trying to take it all in, and looking forward to an incredible mission."

Ferguson was flanked by pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

The crew numbers only four people because there's no rescue shuttle available if Atlantis runs into trouble, as there has been for every flight since Columbia. If necessary, the crew would stay on the International Space Station and gradually return home on Soyuz spacecraft.

"We’ve got a busy mission, but we’re going to do it with a crew of four," said Ferguson. "We’re going to do a fantastic job."

All four crew members have flown at least one prior shuttle mission. The 135th and last shuttle flight, a resupply run to the station, is scheduled to last 12 days.

Ferguson and Hurley tonight will practice landings in a Shuttle Training Aircraft. On Tuesday the crew will practice driving M113 tanks they'd use to escape the launch pad in an emergency, check the fit of their launch-and-entry suits and practice more landings.

On Wednesday they'll answer questions from reporters at launch pad 39A, perform a walkdown of the pad and the shuttle payload and be trained on how to use slide wire baskets that would whisk them to the ground during an evacuation.

Thursday morning they'll suit up, ride to the launch pad and strap into Atlantis for the last dress rehearsal of a shuttle launch. The crew will return home to Houston later that day.

Photo credit: Michael R. Brown, FLORIDA TODAY

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