Atlantis launch cleared as ISS has close shave

Posted by Emma Woollacott

NASA's given the green light to the July 8 launch of its last-ever shuttle mission.

Atlantis'  12-day STS-135 mission to the International Space Station will blast off at 11:26 am EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It'll be the 135th shuttle mission, Atlantis' 33rd flight and the 37th shuttle mission to the station.

Atlantis will deliver the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, stuffed full of the supplies and spare parts needed to sustain space station operations after the shuttles are retired. It will carry about a year's supply of food and other supplies.

The shuttle will also contain the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), a 'robot gas station' designed to try out the tools, technologies and techniques needed to refuel satellites in space - including satellites that were never designed to be serviced.

The crew will also bring back an ammonia pump that recently failed on the station, with the aim of finding out what went wrong. It'll also return the astronauts' trash to Earth.

Commander Chris Ferguson will head the crew, accompanied by pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

They're scheduled to arrive at Kennedy next Monday, July 4, for final launch preparations.

Yesterday, there was a bit of a scare on board the ISS as NASA spotted a piece of space debris on an alarmingly close course. The crew was ordered to seek shelter in the stations's two Russian Soyuz escape capsules.

The object is believed to have passed as close as a thousand feet to the station.