It's official: NASA's last space shuttle launch in history is set to blast off from Florida on July 8.
Senior agency officials made the decision today (June 28) after an extensive review of the space shuttle Atlantis, which will fly the upcoming mission to the International Space Station, as well as the shuttle's four-astronaut crew and ground teams.
NASA is retiring its three space shuttles this year to make way for a new space exploration program aimed at sending astronauts to asteroids and other deep space targets. The shuttles Discovery and Endeavour have already flown their final missions.
Atlantis' 12-day mission will deliver vital spare parts to the space station to help keep the orbiting lab going after the shuttle era ends. It will be NASA's 135th shuttle mission since the program began 30 years ago.
During today's meeting, top NASA shuttle officials reviewed outstanding issues from the agency's previous spaceflight — the shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission — to make sure they won't impact Atlantis' flight.
They also checked on repairs to a main engine fuel valve on Atlantis that leaked during a recent fueling test on June 15. The leaky valve was replaced and technicians at the launch pad completed a successful test on the new valve, NASA officials said.
Officials also checked modifications to Atlantis' external fuel tank, reinforcements designed to prevent the type of cracks found on the shuttle Discovery's tank before its own final launch earlier this year. Discovery's liftoff was delayed months due to the cracks, but eventually launched flawlessly on Feb. 24.
The results of Atlantis' fueling test earlier this month showed no cracks or other anomalies, agency officials said.
Atlantis' final astronaut crew, which includes commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim, will arrive at Kennedy Space Center on July 4 at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT).
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