Space shuttle Atlantis gears up for final launch

Space shuttle Atlantis gears up for final launch

The 32nd and final voyage for Atlantis, which was first launched in 1985, will take six astronauts to the orbiting space research facility, delivering an integrated cargo carrier and a Russian-built mini research module. Lift-off is scheduled for 1820 GMT from Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral in Florida, weather-permitting.

A poignant moment for NASA as the US space agency counts down towards the end of an era in human spaceflight, Atlantis will be retired on its safe return home. "The vehicle is in great shape... and from a Space Shuttle Program and ISS Program standpoint, we're ready to launch Atlantis and get this mission under way," NASA launch manager Mike Moses said yesterday. His team gave Atlantis a unanimous "go" for liftoff on mission STS-132 and weather forecasts were 70 per cent favourable, reflecting some concern over possible low cloud.

During a mission of almost 13 days, most of which will be spent moored to the ISS, Atlantis and the crew will deliver more than 12 tonnes of equipment, including power storage batteries, a communications antenna and a radiator. The biggest single element being transported is the five-ton Rassver research module, or MRM-1, which will provide additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.

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