Atlantis launch set for Monday

May 18, 2009 9:59:48 AM PDT
Seven astronauts who will blast off to space on Monday spent Friday night at Kennedy Space Center. They will hop into Space Shuttle Atlantis for an 11-day mission. It's the final mission to the Hubble Space telescope. [INTERACTIVE: Click here to take a 3D look at the Hubble Space Telescope]

It is another shuttle launch and you've probably seen them before, but this one is different. It is rare and risky and very difficult.

The last 17 shuttle missions all aimed towards the space station. On Monday afternoon, shuttle Atlantis will go on a repair mission to the Hubble space telescope,140 miles further into space than the space station.

"I am pretty excited. For some reason, I'm not too nervous. I don't know why," said Atlantis astronaut Mike Massimino.

Massimino is on the crew and while he's not nervous, NASA big wigs were. After losing Columbia, this mission was cancelled, deemed too dangerous since there was no way to go to the space station and wait for rescue should something go wrong.

"Finding a way that we could be certain to do this with no more risk than we ask of our astronauts on a space station flight was not a trivial undertaking," said former NASA Chief Mike Griffin.

Griffin's solution was this: A second shuttle waiting on a launch pad ready for a first-ever rescue flight.

"I like the idea. It's a good idea. Someone to come get us in case we're in trouble. We're glad they're there," said Massimino.

Since its launch in 1990, Hubble has been both a huge highlight and at times a really significant embarrassment for NASA.

A misshapen mirror kept Hubble from seeing straight at first. Astronauts fixed that and in four other servicing missions kept the telescope both alive and looking so far into space answering huge questions about how and where our universe was created.

"We can't go there yet, but it's sort of like, this is the way. Here is the path. This is what's out there. Do you think you want to go? I think we are saying, 'Yes,'" said Flight Commander Scott Altman.

If these six men and one woman can get it all done, they will keep Hubble sending home stunning answers to as-yet unknown questions for another five years.

"This is our last shot at it. We've got a pretty ambitious schedule, but I think we're ready," said Massimino.

Everything looks good to go for Monday's launch. There is a slight chance that weather at an emergency landing site in Spain could delay the launch, but that is a low possibility at this point.

We will have live reports on the launch of Atlantis, and coverage of the mission, starting Monday, May 11, on Eyewitness News and abc13.com.

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