Space shuttle Atlantis that would bring Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams back home on June 19 after a six month sojourn in space is ready to take off on Friday.
"The team is ready to go," the US space agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), announced on Wednesday after a launch readiness review with launch director Mike Leinbach. He said the countdown is going fine and there are no significant issues to report.
The weather forecast for Friday gives a 70 per cent chance for the launch with a high-pressure ridge expected to move to the north that could help clear out any thunderstorm activity over Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
At 10:30 pm Thursday (8 am IST Friday), the protective rotating service structure will be rolled away from the space shuttle. External tank fuel loading is scheduled to begin eleven hours later.
The launch countdown for Atlantis officially began at 9 pm on Tuesday (6:30 am IST Wednesday). Included in the countdown is nearly 28 hours of built-in hold time prior to a targeted 7:38 pm launch on Friday (5:08 am IST Saturday).
Meanwhile, at the International Space Station, Williams on Wednesday coordinated a second space walk in eight days by two Russian cosmonauts to install a dozen debris-protection panels on the outside of the crew's living quarters.
Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov space who space walked for 5 hours and 37 minutes had installed five more 3 feet by 3 feet, 1 inch thick aluminium panels last week. Six panels were installed in 2002.
Williams is set to break astronaut Shannon Lucid's record for the longest space flight ever by a woman - 188 days and 4 hours - three days before her scheduled return to Earth on June 19.
NASA astronaut Clay Anderson will arrive at the space station on Sunday on board Atlantis to take Williams' place. The shuttle will also deliver a new set of solar array wings to resume construction of the orbital outpost.
Atlantis was originally scheduled to fly in mid-March, but two weeks before the take off the spaceship's fuel tank was damaged during a hailstorm that passed over the Kennedy Space Centre.