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Atlantis space shuttle unveiled for flight despite storms

Atlantis Unveiled for flight 7-7-11 Andrew Malcolm photo for LATimes

"May God Bless Atlantis and Her Crew" say the signs all along the Eastern coast of Florida near the Kennedy Space Center. There, on Pad 39A Thursday Atlantis was unveiled for its 33rd and last flight, despite leaden skies and vicious circling thunderstorms.

If all goes well, after 12 days 250 miles up at the International Space Station, where the humidity is considerably less than Florida in July, Atlantis will end up as the prime attraction at the historic space facility's Visitors Center.

We are participating  in the NASA Tweetup this week for the final U.S. space shuttle launch with unique access to the space center and NASA experts. Scroll down for Thursday's collection of Tweets, vis Storify.com, including a photo of a longtime Ticket reader we finally met in person, Jenn Perry, a veteran launch-watcher.

The photo above was taken about 1,000 feet from the shuttle and booster rockets after the service facility was retracted Thursday afternoon.

The four astronauts are sleeping right now. The launch is scheduled for 11:26 a.m. Friday Eastern time. Bad weather threatens that time, but launch controllers will not decide until the wee hours of Friday morning if the weather will permit loading of hundreds of thousands of gallons of volatile fuel.

If they go proceed with fueling, they will try to find a moderate weather window to launch in time to catch up to the circling ISS. They can scrub Friday's flight, but if they've fueled the rockets, another try can't come before Sunday. If they decide to write off a Friday flight attempt without fueling, Saturday and Sunday are fallback launch dates, when weather is predicted to be slightly better.

There's a tight launch window for NASA's Atlantis because the Air Force has another timed launch scheduled for next week and needs the range clear.

We'll be here, of course, tweeting up our own storm @latimestot with occasional items, numerous Tweets and exclusive photos here too. Spread the word.

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Andrew Malcolm / Los Angeles Times

 
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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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