Space Shuttle Atlantis Prepares for Launch

The Space Shuttle Atlantis astronauts are getting in more pre-flight drills and preparations, getting ready for launch a little over two weeks from now. This mission will be the most important yet in the building of the International Space Station, as Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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During their 11 days in space, the Atlantis astronauts will install an integrated truss segment with two large solar arrays that will provide one-fourth of the total power generation capability of the completed station. Lead ISS Flight Director John McCullough says it's the biggest piece of the space station ever launched.

"On that truss, each of the arrays are about a hundred and eighty feet long. That means that end to end, the two tips of the arrays are about a football field, counting the end zones, so it's a pretty substantial amount of structure going up there. And as mentioned in the last briefing it weighs about 34 thousand points, so it's going to substantially add to the mass of the station as well."

McCullough says this flight will be the first in a series of flights as complex and challenging as any in history, because they want to finish building the space station before the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. When asked if this will be as complex as the Apollo program that sent men to the moon, ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini says it's the most complicated work ever done in space, and it couldn't be done if not for the Apollo program.

"This has been described, the assembly of the ISS has been described as one of the most difficult tasks ever attempted by humans, and I'm here to tell you that it seems like it's going to be that hard. This has never been done before. The creation of a space craft in space has never been done before, and that's what we're doing in the ISS. However we have quite a bit of knowledge that has been gained by our predecessors in the Apollo program."

The current launch date for STS 115 is August 27th, weather permitting. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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