Countdown activities continue on schedule as teams across NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida prepare for the 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time liftoff of space shuttle Atlantis. The space agency announced Atlantis' external tank is fully loaded with more than a half million gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The fueling process started on time at 4:55 a.m. and finished at 7:56 a.m. as the tank entered what NASA called "stable replenish."
At Launch Pad 39A, the Closeout Crew is beginning to ready the climate-controlled White Room outside Atlantis' crew access hatch and the Final Inspection Team will conduct a detailed survey of the shuttle and the pad structure, checking for ice buildups or other potential hazards. As weather remains favorable, STS-132 Weather Officer Todd McNamara predicted a 70 percent chance of good conditions at launch time.
Atlantis' 12-day mission will deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1 that will provide additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. MRM-1, also known as Rassvet, which means dawn in Russian, will be permanently attached to the bottom port of the station's Zarya module. MRM-1 will carry important hardware on its exterior including a radiator, airlock and a European robotic arm. Atlantis also will deliver additional station hardware stored inside a cargo carrier. Three spacewalks are planned to stage spare components outside the station, including six spare batteries, a Ku-band antenna and spare parts for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm.
Space shuttle Atlantis is embarking on its final planned mission. During the 12-day flight, Atlantis and six astronauts will fly to the International Space Station, leaving behind set of batteries for the station's truss and dish antenna, along with other replacement parts. NASA astronaut Ken Ham will be in command of an "all-veteran" flight crew including shuttle pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Michael Good, Garrett Reisman, Piers Sellers and Steve Bowen. There are three spacewalks planned, with each spacewalk will last approximately 6.5 hours.
"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," said John Shannon, Space Shuttle program manager. "This flight has a little bit of everything, and it's been a great preparation for the team."
As the shuttle program winds down (after Atlantis, only two more shuttle flights remain before the program is scrapped), some former astronauts have been critical of President Obama's decision to forge ahead with a manned mission to Mars, among other projects. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, said Obama was being "poorly advised."