Thursday, June 02, 2011

KSC crews prepare Atlantis for final launch

Kennedy Space Center teams are preparing Atlantis and launch pad 39A for the final shuttle launch, including reviews to make sure nothing was damaged when lightning struck within a half-mile of the pad during storms that arrived hours after Atlantis Wednesday morning.

The rotating gantry that shields the orbiter from weather and provides access for workers was closed this morning.

Meanwhile, work is under way to begin "safing" Endeavour's hazardous systems after its final return from space early Wednesday.

In the hangar called Orbiter Processing Facility-1, crews are draining residual cryogenic reactants from the fuel cell system powered the orbiter during its 16-day trip to space.

That standard "down-mission" processing work will continue for two or three months before transitioning to work that will begin to ready Endeavour for display at the California Science Center.

Discovery is further down that path to its ultimate retirement home of the Smithsonian Institution's Udvar-Hazy Center. Technicians today are working to disconnect feedlines to its forward thrusters.

Atlantis is targeted to launch the final shuttle mission July 8. A tanking test is planned June 15, after which portions of the tank will be X-rayed to make sure support beams on its midsection, bolstered to prevent cracks, are in good condition.

The four astronauts flying the mission, led by Chris Ferguson, will visit KSC for a launch countdown dress rehearsal from June 20 to 23.

IMAGE: A banner proclaims the sentiments of Kennedy's work force at Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center after space shuttle Atlantis completed its historic and final journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building. Atlantis was secured or "hard down," at its seaside launch pad at 3:29 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 1. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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