Only two weeks remain until NASA launches its final space shuttle flight, and the four astronauts set to fly the mission plan to savor every moment.
"You want to appreciate the moment, you want to capture it for as many folks who are listening as there will be, I'm sure," the mission's commander, Chris Ferguson, told reporters Wednesday, while standing in front of their shuttle Atlantis at the seaside Launch Pad 39A here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Ferguson and his three crewmates — pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim — are in Florida for a launch dress rehearsal planned for Thursday.
"It is a pleasure to be here, especially right in front of the space shuttle," Walheim said. "It just gives you goose bumps thinking we're going to get to ride that in about two weeks.
The astronauts plan to launch aboard the shuttle Atlantis on July 8 for a 12-day trip that will cap off NASA's 30-year space shuttle program. The shuttle will deliver more than 8,000 pounds of spare parts and supplies to maintain the International Space Station after the reusable space planes are retired for good. NASA is retiring the shuttle program to make way for a new space exploration plan aimed at sending astronauts to asteroids, Mars or other deep-space targets.
No spacewalks are planned for the crew of the 135th and final shuttle mission, though two NASA astronauts currently living onboard the space station will perform a spacewalk during Atlantis' visit.
"We feel very honored to be on this flight," Magnus said. "We've been very focused to make sure we perform it well in honor of all of the people who have been involved in not just this mission but all of the missions. We feel very, very strongly that we have to be prepared as possible to perform the mission to the extent that they're expecting of us. And I think when it's all done we can all celebrate together, not only just this mission but the whole program."
For the dress rehearsal tomorrow, officially called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), the astronauts will suit up in their orange launch-and-entry suits and head out to the launch pad just as they will on launch day. They and the NASA ground team will practice all the steps they must take to lift off on the shuttle.
In addition to preparing for their complicated mission, the crew must also weigh the responsibilities that come with being the last human beings to ride a space shuttle into orbit.
"I think each of us feels a little perhaps extra burden to make sure that we put on the best possible face forward for the last go around of this," Ferguson said. "And the crew is very prepared. We're going to go out and do a fantastic job. When it's all over at the very end, the enormity of it is going to hit us."
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