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Sunita Williams ready to welcome Atlantis Crew

By Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston
June 08, 2007 04:52 IST
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Indian American astronaut, Sunita "Suni" Williams, the first woman to be in space for six months, is all set to return home June 19, as Shuttle Atlantis gears up to fly on Friday on an 11-day assembly mission to the international space station.

Sunita has been busy providing support aboard international space station to two Russian cosmonauts, Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov, who successfully completed yet another spacewalk.

In addition, Sunita is making arrangements to welcome the Atlantis crew of seven astronauts, who are trained to deliver a $367 million solar power module to the space station and install the new hardware and make other upgrades with three spacewalks.

Astronaut Clayton "Clay" Anderson will remain aboard the space station until late October. He will replace American Sunita "Suni" who has been living and working aboard the space station since December.

The shuttle Atlantis was unscathed by severe weather at the Kennedy Space Center overnight that included a threat of hail, though lightning slowed efforts to service the ship's electrical power system, NASA said on Thursday.

"After many months of hard work, Atlantis is finally ready to fly," said Stephen Payne, a shuttle launch manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. External tank inspections are in process and there are no issues being tracked.

Upon completion of all checks and inspections the access platforms will be retracted. The xenon lights will be lit, brightly illuminating the space shuttle, which can be seen from miles away.

"We're ready to fly tomorrow," said Payne. Roy Worthy, external tank and solid rocket booster vehicle manager, described the multitude of repairs performed on the external tank and thanked the hundreds of workers who laboured days on end to complete the task.

STS-117 Payload Manager, Robbie Ashley, reported that the payload was loaded into the orbiter's payload bay this week and everything is ready and secured for launch.

Kathy Winters, shuttle weather officer said there is now only a 20 per cent chance that weather would affect the launch.

A high pressure ridge has entered the area and although the typical Florida afternoon storms may develop, they should be west of Kennedy Space Center and not an issue at launch time.

The forecast for Friday morning is for light winds and a zero per cent chance of weather prohibiting the loading of propellants into the external tank.

Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Lee Archambault have been practicing landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft and the entire crew is making final preparations for the liftoff.

Transfer of the hydrogen and oxygen reactants were completed on Thursday morning. These reactants will be used by Atlantis to generate power during the mission.

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Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston
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