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Astronauts board space shuttle for last launch -- weather permitting

posted 8 Jul 2011, 06:36 by Sam Mbale

Astronauts board space shuttle Atlantis on its final run to the International Space Station before NASA retires the U.S. shuttle program.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES (JULY 8, 2011) (NASA - Four veteran astronauts scrambled aboard space shuttle Atlantis on Friday (July 8), hoping the weather would clear for liftoff on the final mission of the U.S. shuttle program.

Launch was targeted for 11:26 a.m. EDT ( 1526 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center. Meteorologists, however, predicted just a 30 percent chance of suitable weather for the flight.

Dense cloud cover or possible rain and thunderstorms could prompt a delay.

Up to 1 million spectators lined beaches and causeways around the shuttle's central Florida launch pad. If liftoff is delayed, they may have to wait through the weekend for a glimpse of the final shuttle rocket vaulting into orbit.

An abridged crew of four -- Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, flight engineer Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus -- began strapping into reclined seats on Atlantis' top deck shortly after 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT)

Atlantis, which was set to be retired last year, is laden with food and other supplies critical to the International Space Station, a recently completed orbital research outpost 220 miles (354 km) above Earth.