NASA has cleared space shuttle Endeavour for a June 13 launch to the international space station.
Top managers settled on the date Wednesday following a daylong flight review that coincided with a practice countdown by the seven astronauts assigned to the mission.
If Endeavour flies on time, the mission will follow NASA's Hubble Space Telescope mission by just under three weeks. Atlantis' flight to Hubble was so clean — the only notable shuttle problems were a short-circuited electronics box and slight scraping from flyaway fuel-tank foam — that managers did not see any need to hold up Endeavour's launch.
"The Atlantis mission was a tremendous success and it really enabled us to be here," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space operations chief. "We didn't have a lot to talk about. The vehicle was really in great shape."
Atlantis arrived back at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday following a two-day ferry trip from California, where the mission ended. Endeavour had been on standby throughout the Hubble repair mission as a potential rescue ship; there was no refuge for the Atlantis astronauts in Hubble's orbit if their ship had suffered severe launch damage.
NASA moved Endeavour from one launch pad to the other over the weekend, in preparation for the June flight.
Endeavour will carry up the last part of Japan's science lab, an outdoor porch for experiments, and a new space station resident. Five spacewalks are planned during the 16-day mission.
When Endeavour pulls up, the space station will have 13 people on board for the first time ever. The population at the orbiting outpost doubled, to six full-time residents, just last week.
"It's a pretty exciting time," Gerstenmaier told reporters.