Astronauts arrive for final shuttle launch

CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL--The crew of the shuttle Atlantis celebrated the July Fourth holiday Monday by flying to Florida aboard sleek T-38 jet trainers to prepare for launch Friday on the 135th and final shuttle mission.

After a brief stop in Mobile, Ala., to refuel, commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Douglas Hurley, Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim touched down at the 3-mile-long shuttle runway around 2:32 p.m. EDT (GMT-4).

"We are just delighted to be here after a very arduous nine-month training flow, we're thrilled to finally be here in Florida for launch week," Ferguson told reporters. "This is a day that's decidedly American, a day where we kind of reflect on our independence and all the wonderful things that we really have as part of being the United States of America. I think it's wonderful you've all come out to join us when I know, and I certainly hope, you'll have an opportunity to go home when this is all done and enjoy some barbecue, some fireworks and some apple pie.

The Atlantis astronauts at the shuttle runway Monday (left to right) commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Douglas Hurley, Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim. (Credit: William Harwood/CBS News)

"We have a very event-filled mission ahead of us, we have 12 days, we'll be very, very busy," he said. "When it's all over, we'll be very proud to put the right-hand bookend on the space shuttle program."

Said Hurley: "On behalf of the crew, we'd really like to thank the folks here at Kennedy Space Center. This is where we come to fly the vehicles and ideally where we come back to. Especially, we want to thank the team that processed Atlantis for her last flight. They've worked very hard, they've had a very short flow and we can't thank them enough. We're so very proud to be here, sharing our nation's birthday with you all and the folks here at Kennedy. We just want to honor the entire Kennedy team that has worked on these magnificent machines over the past 30-plus years."

The space shuttle Atlantis, poised atop pad 39A awaiting launch Friday on NASA's final shuttle flight. Forecasters are predicting a 60 percent chance of stormy weather that could trigger a delay. (Credit: NASA TV)
The shuttle's countdown is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday, setting up a launch attempt at 11:26:46 a.m. Friday, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries launch complex 39A into the plane of the International Space Station's orbit. The astronauts have until Sunday to get off the ground or launch will slip to July 16 to give the Air Force time to launch a navigation satellite aboard a Delta 4 rocket July 14.

Assuming an on-time liftoff, Ferguson will guide Atlantis to a docking at the station's forward port around 11:09 a.m. Sunday. A cargo module loaded with more than 8,000 pounds of supplies and equipment will be attached to the station the next day, followed by a spacewalk Tuesday with station astronauts Ronald Garan and Michael Fossum.

If all goes well, Atlantis will undock around 1:51 a.m. July 18 and land back at the Kennedy Space Center around 6:56 a.m. on July 20 to close out the orbiter's thirty-third and final flight.

"It's such a pleasure to come down here when you have a rocket on the pad and it's got your stuff loaded on it," Walheim said on the shuttle runway. "So we're really excited to be here. I thank you all for coming out and I hope you have a happy Fourth of July."