Nasa Gears Up For Last-Ever Shuttle Launch
1:04am 1st July 2011
(Updated 9:04am 1st July 2011)
Nasa has confirmed it is on schedule for the lift-off of Atlantis next week - and a moment of history for the United States.
The launch will be the last in the 30-year history of the space shuttle programme and a defining moment for America's adventure in space.
Nasa says the launch will go ahead on July 8 after potential problems with a main engine valve and a fuel tank strut were fixed.
The space agency released computer generated animations of the work Atlantis and its four-person crew will do during the 12-day mission.
Atlantis will unload a year's worth of supplies for the International Space Station before heading back to earth for its final landing.
Chris Ferguson, who will command the shuttle on the final mission, said: "We tend to treat these vehicles as if they're a little part of us and to see them go is a little like mourning a friend.
"They've been wonderful to us and there's an enormous amount of history to look back upon and when all's said and done we'll look back and say it has been a tremendous success."
He will be joined by pilot Dough Hurley and engineers Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. It is unusual for the shuttle to only have a crew of four.
Once the shuttles are retired, the US will rely on Russian rockets to take astronauts into space. They hope private companies will eventually provide the service.
Nasa will instead focus beyond the 'low earth orbit' where the space station orbits and aim for the moon, asteroids or Mars.
Shuttle programme deputy manager John Shannon said: "I think most people in Nasa understand that with the limited funding we can expect that you can't keep everything with you.
"You have to give up something and its appropriate and the right time to move on to what comes next."
It is expected that as many as 750,000 people could pack Florida's 'Space Coast' for the launch of Atlantis.
Hundreds of workers on the shuttle programme will be out of world once it comes to an end, 30 days after Atlantis completes its landing.