Atlantis Prepares for Final Mission

The Space Shuttle Atlantis
The crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis are making last minute preparations for the craft's final launch into Earth's orbit - and the third last shuttle mission. The 25 year old feat of engineering is now fueled for lift off and, weather permitting, will launch later this evening. Atlantis carries a small laboratory and docking compartment that will be attached to the Russian side of the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations nearing completion after more than a decade of construction 220 miles above the Earth. Atlantis is also carrying up fresh batteries for the station's power-generating system, food, laptops and a spare communication antenna. The mission is to last 12 days.

Only two other shuttle flights remain. Once the shuttles are retired, NASA will leave station deliveries to commercial companies and other countries, and focus on eventual trips to asteroids and Mars. There has been some suggestion that Atlantis, or another shuttle, should remain at the ISS in case of emergency. However, it is more likely Atlantis will end up in a museum, with an estimated cost of around $30m.


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