The countdown is on for Friday’s scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis on its STS-132 mission. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians at Launch Pad 39A continued preparations for the liftoff at 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time. The rotating service structure will be moved away from the spacecraft at 5:30 p.m. today. During the 12-day mission, Atlantis and the mission’s six astronauts are delivering an Integrated Cargo Carrier and a Russian-built Mini Research Module to the International Space Station.
On the eve of their launch to the International Space Station, NASA said Atlantis’ astronauts will spend a day after conducting an L-1 systems and weather briefing with the ascent team of flight controllers at the Mission Control Center in Houston. A high-pressure system continues to dominate Florida’s weather pattern, resulting in favorable weather for the rest of the week. The space agency said the primary launch weather concern is a low cloud ceiling, but the forecast is good overall, calling for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time.
“From a Space Shuttle Program and ISS Program standpoint, we’re ready to launch Atlantis and get this mission under way,” said Mike Moses, chair of the prelaunch mission management team that gathered Wednesday at Kennedy and gave a unanimous “go” for liftoff. The launch team said it is not tracking any issues that would prevent an on-time liftoff.
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.
As the space shuttle program winds down with an air of nostalgia, some former prominent astronauts, including the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, are criticizing President Barack Obama’s decision to mothball Constellation, a human spaceflight program within NASA, and announce plans to put a man on Mars. Speaking earlier this week at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Armstrong said the president was “poorly advised” by a small group of insiders.
“If the leadership we have acquired through our investment is allowed simply to fade away, other nations will surely step in where we have faltered. I do not believe that this would be in our best interests,” British newspaper The Register reported him saying. “A plan that was invisible to so many was likely contrived by a very small group in secret who persuaded the president that this was a unique opportunity to put his stamp on a new and innovative program.”