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Shuttle Launch



Weather Question Mark for U.S. Shuttle Launch
Atlantis Liftoff Scheduled for 8:45 a.m. ET Friday

By Brad Liston
Reuters

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Sept, 7) - Weather was the biggest question mark on 
Thursday as crews made final preparations for the Friday liftoff of space 
shuttle Atlantis on a mission to ready the International Space Station for 
the arrival of its first long-duration crew in less than two months. 

Thunderstorms blanketed the southeastern United States as ground workers 
pressed on toward their final tasks, which included loading the shuttle's 
mammoth external fuel tank and strapping the international crew of astronauts 
and cosmonauts into their seats for the eight-minute ride into space. 

Weather officers at Florida's Kennedy Space Center forecast a 60 percent 
chance of clear skies at 8:45 a.m. EDT, when a two-minute window of 
opportunity to launch the spacecraft opens. 

The mission was announced last February, when delays in a Russian module 
forced NASA and the project's remaining partners in Europe, Canada and Japan 
back to the drawing boards. 

That means the seven-member crew, commanded by U.S. Marine Corps Col. 
Terrence Wilcutt, have had just half the training time usually given shuttle 
crews. 

But that was inevitable given the complexity of a project often compared to 
the Moon landing, NASA said. 

"As the task grows and the details become more and more obvious, we'll always 
have to add missions. You'd like to keep that to a minimum, but there's just 
no way you can get around that,'' Wilcutt said in a recent preflight 
interview. 

This is seat-of-the-pants flying by NASA standards, but flight managers say 
they are sacrificing none of the excruciatingly detailed planning and 
training designed to make the flights safe and successful. 

"We know how to put flights together; we know what it takes to get ready and 
when it's ready. There's no pressure,'' said Ron Dittemore, the shuttle 
program manager. 

The Atlantis crew will find a space station that has grown from seven stories 
to 13 stories since the last shuttle crew visited in May. 

In July the long delayed Zvezda service module, headquarters for early 
station crews, was launched and made an automatic docking. It was followed by 
a Progress supply ship, which is now docked to the back end of Zvezda. 

Altogether, the complex now looks like bottles and cans of various shapes and 
sizes laid end to end with solar panels and antennas jutting from the sides. 

Astronaut Edward Lu and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko will perform a space walk 
during the mission, connecting power and data cables to Zvezda. 

For the first time, the space walkers will use a Russian method of securing 
themselves while working outside a shuttle. They will scamper up and down 
using a pair of tethers in the manner of rock climbers, always held by one 
cable as they move to a new position and secure the other. 

Inside the station, the crew will offload about 4,800 pounds from the 
pressurized cargo hold in Atlantis. They will also unload some 1,300 pounds 
from the Progress cargo ship. 

Much of this cargo run is made up of Zvezda hardware stripped from the module 
before launch to lighten its weight. Some will be installed but most will be 
positioned for installation when the first three-person station crew, known 
as Expedition One, arrives in November. 

Rounding out the crew are pilot Scott Altman and mission specialists Daniel 
Burbank, Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Boris Morukov. 

The Atlantis mission is scheduled for 11 days but NASA has said it would like 
to extend that to 12 if enough fuel can be conserved after launch. 

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