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Space Shuttle Atlantis Rolls Out to Launch Pad

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Sept. 4: Space shuttle Atlantis moves slowly toward launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP)

NASA moved shuttle Atlantis to the launch pad on Thursday for a flight next month to the Hubble Space Telescope after being waylaid by a pair of tropical storms.

Atlantis is supposed to blast off on NASA's final visit to Hubble on Oct. 8, but it is expected to be delayed a couple of days because of work lost to Tropical Storms Fay and Hanna.

A technical problem with the hookup between the shuttle and its external fuel tank also stalled operations.

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Fay dumped an extraordinary amount of rain on the area two weeks ago and shut down Kennedy Space Center for three days.

Hanna threatened to do the same but, for now, was expected to remain far offshore and pose little if any threat.

More severe tropical weather is headed across the Atlantic. NASA is hoping that Ike, already a fierce hurricane, and Tropical Storm Josephine bypass Cape Canaveral so that there are no further delays to launch preparations.

Atlantis' three-mile trip from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad took much of the morning and afternoon.

Seven astronauts will fly to Hubble to install new equipment that hopefully will prolong the telescope's working life and yield better results. The mission was canceled following the 2003 Columbia disaster because of safety concerns, but reinstated by a new NASA regime.

Before Atlantis can lift off, another shuttle must be on the other launch pad, ready to fly to the rescue in case Atlantis suffers irreparable damage during launch. The Endeavour is being readied as the emergency vehicle.

Unlike shuttles bound for the international space station, Atlantis' crew will have nowhere to seek shelter while awaiting rescue. That's why NASA must be ready to move fast with Endeavour.