CAPE CANAVERAL (CBS4)- For 30 years, the launch of space shuttles every couple of months or so has become a routine way of life in the minds of many Americans.
On Friday that all ends when, for the last time, a space shuttle launches from Kennedy Space Center.
According to CBS4’s Stephen Stock reporting from the Kennedy Space Center, NASA managers said they had only three minor issues out at the launch pad overnight, including a faulty fire alarm that went off, a false alarm and a couple of chilling units that stopped working. But two of three of those units are back up and working.
Stock, who is covering his 41st space shuttle launch said that like many other launch attempts, this one could be delayed by bad weather.
It has been 134 previous times a space shuttle has stood, poised for flight on its launch pad. Mike Moses, the Shuttle Mission Management Team Chairman said Atlantis, on pad 39-A, is simply waiting on its crew.
“The team is ready,” Moses said. “They’re prepared. Everything is in the right spot. This is a normal countdown for us. It’s time to go.”
Though the players may be ready, mother nature may not be.
Weather forecasters said the chance of lightning and thunderstorms within 20 miles of the launch pad on Friday morning could force a scrub and push back the launch attempt to Saturday.
“For launch, our main concern is still having showers and thunderstorms in the area,” Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said. “So with, that we do have a 70% chance of weather prohibiting launch.”
NASA expects as many as three quarters of a million people will line the roads and beaches in Brevard County Friday to witness this part of manned space history, and, that, could actually pose a problem for the launch team should weather force officials to scrub the launch.
“Because of the traffic concerns on a scrub we don’t know that we could get everybody back 24 hours later and have the whole team ready to support with all the traffic delays getting home,” Moses said.
Joe Delai, shuttle’s payload manager, said “This is a very special mission for us.”
Special not only because it’s the last space shuttle mission, but also because Atlantis will be taking nearly a year’s worth of supplies to the International Space Station, the most ever carried in the shuttle’s payload bay.
“We’re not the heaviest. But volume wise, we’re the most. We’ve never carried this amount of payload up volume wise,” said Delai.
And even before the last mission takes off for lower earth orbit, NASA managers, like Mike Moses, are already looking to the future and the goal of eventual deep space exploration by humans.
“We have still a lot to learn before we get a life support system all the way to Mars without a lot of maintenance. And that’s just one example. The propulsion, the habitats, the EVA suits all that has to evolve,” Moses explained.
But even as preparations focus on the future one can’t help but join Mike Leinbach, the shuttle launch director in reflecting back over 30 years of history.
“The shuttle program to me was an evolutionary step off of the planet and into the heavens,” he said. “We have learned to live and work in low earth orbit. And we’ve done that pretty well.”