Friday, June 10, 2011

Atlantis launch preps continue ahead of test

At launch pad 39A this weekend, Kennedy Space Center teams will continue closing out the aft section of shuttle Atlantis in preparation for the targeted July 8 launch of the last shuttle mission.

Early next week, focus will turn to preparations for a tanking test set to start at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

During the test, more than a half-million gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen will be pumped into Atlantis' 15-story external tank and then drained.

Starting next Saturday, engineers will spend up to a week taking X-ray scans of dozens of support brackets called "stringers" lining the tank's mid-section, or intertank, to make sure they withstood the cold temperatures and flexing from the tanking process.

NASA ordered reinforcements to the stringers after some cracked on the tank that eventually flew safely with Discovery in February.

Stringers surround an intertank access door that for only the second time will fly decorated with a hand-painted logo.

The tank that flew with Endeavour last month carried an image that represented the tank's resurrection from damage it and New Orleans suffered during Hurricane Katrina.

Atlantis' tank, labeled ET-138, sports a logo commemorating the end of the shuttle program, the winner of a patch design contest last year.

Blake Dumesnil, an engineer at Johnson Space Center in Houston, designed the logo. Jon Irving, a Lockheed Martin graphic artist who works at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, painted it on the door.

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