Shuttle crew arrives on cape, begins countdown for launch

Published August 25, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL - The crew of space shuttle Atlantis arrived Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center, and crew members said they are ready for Sunday's scheduled launch.

Atlantis commander and Navy Capt. Brent Jett told a crowd at Kennedy Space Center's shuttle runway that his crew is ready to restart the station's assembly after a three-year hiatus since the Columbia accident in February 2003.

"I hope that you can tell by the smiles on our faces that we're very, very happy to be here to start the launch countdown," Jett said after his crew landed at the space center in training jets.

"There has been a lot of talk in the press lately about NASA being back and I think we would all certainly agree with that talk," said Jett, referring to last month's successful shuttle mission. "There is a saying back in Texas: It's time to walk the walk. Speaking for myself and my fellow crewmates, I can assure you that we are ready for the challenge."

Engineers said Atlantis, which hasn't flown since 2002, seems ready for the third shuttle mission since the Columbia tragedy.

Liftoff is scheduled for 4:29 p.m. Sunday. The countdown began at noon Thursday.

"The vehicle is in excellent shape," said Robbie Ashley, NASA's shuttle payload manager for this flight. "It's very clean and we are ready to go get it in orbit and watch it do its job."

And more good news came from meteorologists, who predicted a 70 percent chance of favorable weather.

The crew is scheduled for an 11-day mission.

Also aboard will be pilot Christopher Ferguson and mission specialists Daniel Burbank, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Joseph Tanner and Steven MacLean, a Canadian astronaut.

They are assigned to deliver a 17½-ton power plant, which includes two huge solar arrays, to the half-built international space station. They will install it and perform other duties during three lengthy and demanding spacewalks.

Information from the Associated Press, Orlando Sentinel and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.