Thursday, June 16, 2011

Final shuttle payload heads to launch pad today

The primary payload for the final shuttle mission is expected to begin rolling toward Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A at 9 p.m. today.

A 48-wheeled transporter will haul a 60-foot-tall, environmentally controlled canister holding a cylindrical module packed with more than 8,000 pounds of supplies and parts bound for the International Space Station.

The flight will be the fourth since 2001 for the Italian-built "moving van" named Raffaello.

A sister module named Leonardo flew eight times before being left on the station as a permanent addition in Februrary.

Technically called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, or MPLM, Raffaello measures 21 feet long and 15 feet in diamter.

A separate cargo carrier also will be installed in Atlantis' payload bay behind Raffaello, holding a box that will be installed on the station for tests of in-orbit refueling technologies. On the way down, it will carry a station coolant system pump module that failed last summer and will return to Earth for analysis.

The cargo is scheduled to be lifted into a changeout room in the launch pad's rotating gantry Friday morning and be installed in the payload bay Monday -- the same day four Atlantis astronauts fly into KSC for a countdown reheasal and other launch training.

Atlantis is targeted to launch at 11:26 a.m. July 8. An official launch date will be confirmed June 28.

IMAGE: In the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on June 3, technicians garbed in protective wear, commonly known as 'bunny suits,' installed cargo inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module for shuttle Atlantis' flight to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

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