Atlantis arrives at launch pad

Cape Canaveral (FL) – With Discovery safe on the ground again, NASA has begun preparing Atlantis for its STS-125 mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA said that Atlantis arrived at about 9:10 a.m. EDT Tuesday on top of its crawler-transporter at its launch pad 39A. Travelling at a speed of less than 1 mph, the crawler covered the 3.4 mile journey between the vehicle assembly building and the pad in five hours and 16 minutes. The shuttle was secured to the launch pad at 11:17 am EDT.

Atlantis is not scheduled for lift off until May 12. Mission STS-125 will be the 126th shuttle flight, the 30th flight for Atlantis and the fifth Hubble servicing mission. During the 11-day mission, the crew of seven will do five space walks, install two new instruments, repair two inactive ones and replace other Hubble components. A new Data Handling Unit will replace the one in Hubble that stopped working in September 2008 and delayed the servicing mission.

NASA said that the repairs and upgrades will result in a much more capable telescope that is now expected to remain in operation at least until 2014.  

Construction of Atlantis began in March of 1980 and NASA took delivery in April of 1985. Atlantis’ first flight was mission STS-51-J in October of 1985. While the shuttle is already 24 years old, Discovery is slightly older (November 1983). The shuttle Endeavour is six years younger than Atlantis (May 1991). While all shuttles look the same on the outside, they are all slightly different and incorporate improvements over earlier models, especially over Columbia, which was NASA first space shuttle. Compared to Columbia, which exploded in a tragic accident in 2003, Discovery is about 3.1 tons lighter and Atlantis is about 3.5 tons lighter.

Endeavour, which was on a mission to ISS last November, is also being prepared for its next flight. The shuttle is scheduled to roll out to Kennedy’s other launch pad, 39B on April 17. Endeavour will be prepared for liftoff in the unlikely event that a rescue mission is necessary following Atlantis’ launch. After Atlantis is cleared to land, Endeavour will move to Launch Pad 39A for its upcoming STS-127 mission to the International Space Station, targeted to launch in mid-June. NASA said that the dual-pad approach requires one month less processing time than the single-pad approach and will help complete both STS-125 and STS-127. Endeavour will deliver the Japanese Exposed Facility and make the space station more robust to support cargo delivery for a six-person crew.