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Astronauts Enter Quarantine for Final Space Shuttle Launch

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After months of intense training, the astronauts set to fly on NASA's final space shuttle flight are raring to go, so it's no surprise they are taking steps to avoid catching a  last-minute cold.

The four Atlantis shuttle astronauts entered a standard preflight quarantine on Friday (July 1) to prevent illness and limit exposure to any harmful germs. Atlantis is scheduled to launch on July 8 at 11:26 a.m. EDT (1526 GMT) from the seaside Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The mission, which wraps up NASA's space shuttle program after 30 years, has generated a lot of interest, and the four STS-135 astronauts have had to juggle media appearances and public outreach events with their rigorous training.

"A lot of the focus has been on the fact that this is the historic final flight of the space shuttle," commander Chris Ferguson said in a news briefing Thursday (June 30). "This is the right crew for the right time." [ 7 Notable Shuttle Astronauts ]

Ferguson said that he's looking forward to some peace and quiet in quarantine, and hopes to take a break from all the commotion leading up to launch. He wants to use the time to review for the mission and gather his thoughts, he said.

Atlantis' 12-day mission, called STS-135, will deliver huge spare parts to the International Space Station, along with other supplies, in order to prepare the orbiting laboratory for its life without visiting space shuttle missions. It will be NASA's 135th, and last, flight for the space shuttles as NASA shuts down the fleet to make way for a new program aimed at deep space exploration.

Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim will travel to Kennedy Space Center on Monday (July 4) and will remain in medial quarantine in the days leading up to their launch next Friday.

The astronauts will fly to the Florida spaceport from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston in the agency's white T-38 supersonic jets on Monday afternoon.

Amidst all the attention the astronauts have already received, they have been able to reflect on the gravity of the moment and the historic mission that they are about to fly.

"We are as enormously proud of this vehicle," Ferguson said. "We tend to treat these vehicles as if they're a little part of us. To see them go away is like mourning a friend. They've been wonderful to us. There's an enormous amount of history to look back on."

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