The six astronauts for space shuttle Atlantis' STS-132 mission to the International Space Station are at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for their prelaunch preparations, the space agency has announced.
The crew arrived at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility in four T-38 jets yesterday evening. STS-138 Commander Ken Ham made a brief statement and then he and his crew departed the shuttle runway. NASA lead shuttle flight director Mike Sarafin said there is a touch of "reverence" surrounding the mission, which will mark the last flight of the Atlantis shuttlecraft.
Ham and Pilot Tony Antonelli are scheduled to practice shuttle landings starting at 6 a.m. today in Shuttle Training Aircraft, which are modified Gulfstream II jets. The countdown for Atlantis' Friday launch begins today at 4 p.m. EDT, NASA said.
"This is probably the kind of thing that's really going to hit all of us after we're done with the mission and we realize what part of history we may have played," astronomy magazine Space recorded Ham saying. "I think the space shuttle as a machine is the single most incredible machine humanity has ever built. The program has to come to an end at some point, and it is an honor and privilege for us to represent being part of that crew at the end."
During the 12-day flight, Atlantis and the six astronauts will fly to the International Space Station, leaving behind a Russian Mini Research Module, a set of batteries for the station's truss and dish antenna, along with other replacement parts. After the final STS-132 Flight Readiness Review, John Shannon, space shuttle program manager, pointed out that Atlantis' last planned mission will be an exciting one.
"Twelve days, three [spacewalks], tons of robotics-we're putting on spares that make us feel good about the long-term sustainability of the ISS, replacing batteries that have been up there for a while, and docking a Russian-built ISS module," Shannon said. "This flight has a little bit of everything, and it's been a great preparation for the team."
In late April, NASA announced plans to alter target launch dates for the last two scheduled space shuttle flights. Scientists with the $2 billion particle detector, or Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), program recently decided to change out the current magnet in the particle physics experiment module that will be attached to the International Space Station to a longer lasting one. While this will take advantage of NASA's plan to extend station operations until at least 2020, it forces the space agency to delay the space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission from July to November. An exact launch date has not yet been set.