By Arun Kumar
Washington : US space agency NASA has cleared the space shuttle Atlantis for a June 8 launch to bring Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams back home after her six month sojourn in space.
Williams, who has been aboard the International Space Station (ISS) since December, will be replaced by Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson. The crew swap was originally scheduled to take place during the second flight of the year, but is now unlikely to occur before August.
Atlantis' seven-member crew is scheduled to arrive in Florida Monday for final flight preparations. The three-day launch countdown would begin Tuesday evening.
Barring technical problems or weather-related delays, the shuttle is scheduled to lift off at 23:38 GMT (5:08 IST, June 9) from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, NASA announced Thursday after flight readiness review meetings.
The shuttle's external fuel tank, which was damaged in a hailstorm Feb 26, has been repaired. "Even though there are a lot of dimples on the tank, they're very low mass," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations.
"It has a slightly higher risk due to the number of repairs. It's almost as good as a regular tank that we would go fly," he added.
Atlantis will carry a new set of power-producing solar wings to the space station, which is being expanded to accommodate laboratories built by European and Japanese space agencies.