Friday, July 08, 2011

Shuttle Atlantis fueled-up in hope of launch

Despite a dismal forecast, NASA managers decided early Friday to load the shuttle Atlantis with rocket fuel and to press ahead for an attempted launch of the orbiter on the program's 135th and final mission.

Liftoff is targeted for 11:26:46 a.m. Eastern, but with a 70 percent chance of stormy weather, mission managers held open the option of standing down later Friday morning, depending on actual conditions.

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"Mike Moses, the mission management team chair, said some people might call it silly to try and play in the rain this morning, but he said we're going to absolutely try for tanking," said countdown commentator Allard Beutel.

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"But throughout the overnight and closer to the dawn early morning hours, between six and seven o'clock, they'll keep their eyes on the forecast, of course, all night long, but around that time, they'll start getting a very focused look on the weather and see whether it's the right thing to proceed towards launch or whether the forecast really is getting worse. We'll look at perhaps standing down at that point."

Hoping for the best, engineers began pumping super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen through transfer lines to pad 39A at 2:01 a.m. Eastern. Routed through Atlantis' main engine plumbing to condition the hardware to cryogenic temperatures, the propellants then flowed into oxygen and hydrogen reservoirs in the shuttle's huge external tank. The fueling procedure was to last about three hours.

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