CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Space shuttle Atlantis sailed past
the 120 million-mile mark in space Wednesday and aimed for a
morning touchdown to end its flying career.
To everyone's relief, the predicted rain seemed to be staying
"It's looking pretty favorable right now," Mission Control
radioed commander Kenneth Ham before dawn.
Ham and his crew had some trouble turning on the backup cooling
system that is needed for re-entry, but managed to work around the
problem and close the payload bay doors on time. Landing was set
for 8:48 a.m.
The lead flight directors for the space station construction
mission - and NASA's third-to-last shuttle journey - arrived from
Houston to welcome Atlantis and its six astronauts home.
Tens of thousands jammed Kennedy Space Center and surrounding
roads to witness Atlantis' launch on May 14, but the landing was
not expected to attract nearly as many people.
Shortly after midnight, Atlantis logged its 120-millionth mile
in space, accumulated over 32 flights and 25 years. Only two
shuttle missions remain, by NASA's two other spaceships. NASA is
pushing for one more flight for Atlantis, which would need White
Atlantis and its all-man crew departed the International Space
Station on Sunday, leaving it bigger and more powerful.
The astronauts accomplished everything they set out to do, and
did it with humor. When Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert called to
chat Tuesday, the one-liners zipped back and forth.
"We've got a new antenna on the space station, a new six-pack
of batteries, a new module docked to the station, and generally
have defeated the forces of evil, so we're very happy about how
things have gone," said spaceman Garrett Reisman.
Ham and his crew turned serious, though, when reflecting on
Atlantis' quarter-century of service and the impending end of the
space shuttle program.
Once Atlantis is back in its hangar, it will be prepped for a
potential rescue mission for what's currently slated to be the
final shuttle flight, by Endeavour. Endeavour's trip is targeted
for November, but NASA managers will reassess the date in another
week or two.
The only other flight on the books is a supply run to the space
station by Discovery in September. That date also is being
Both of those missions have payload issues that are threatening
to cause delays.
NASA would like to fly Atlantis again in June 2011, provided no
rescue mission is needed for Endeavour's flight.