Thursday, July 07, 2011

NASA Prepares For Final Shuttle Fuel-Loading

NASA engineers aim to start fueling the external tank of shuttle Atlantis early Friday, a move that would keep the agency on course for the nation's 135th and final shuttle launch despite stormy weather and a grim forecast.

Atlantis and four astronauts remain scheduled to launch at 11:26 a.m. Friday, and an initial review of lightning strikes near the pad today have raised no red flags. One bolt struck the water tower about 500 feet of the shuttle at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A. A second hit the beach and two more were recorded within close proximity of the shuttle.

Lightning strikes can prompt NASA to order up retesting of shuttle electrical systems to make sure all still are working as intended -- tests that potentially could prompt a delay in launch. However, the initial analyses indicated that no extensive retesting will be required. 

NASA engineers will brief senior mission managers on the lightning strikes during an internal meeting at 1:30 a.m. A decision on whether to proceed with external-tank propellant-loading operations -- the next big milestone in the countdown for launch Friday -- will be made at that time. The weather forecast for launch still calls for a 70 percent chance rain showers and thunderstorms will prohibit launch.

You can watch live coverage of the propellant-loading right here in The Flame Trench beginning at 1:50 a.m. Friday. The three-hour operation is slated to start at 2:01 a.m. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. Or join us in our Cover-It-Live interactive blog, which will launch in The Flame Trench at the conclusion of the Mission Management Team meeting.

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