Atlantis has begun her journey back home to the Kennedy Space Center, hitching a ride on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747. The flight took off at about 11:05 EDT on Monday morning from Edwards Air Force Base, and the duo will fly to Biggs Army Air Field in El Paso, Texas and spend the night there before resuming the cross-country trip on Tuesday. Of course, Atlantis just returned from space, landing at Edwards on May 24, concluding the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time. Track the flight here.
But Atlantis isn’t the only spacecraft on the move. The shuttle Endeavour just rolled around to launchpad 39A, after standing down from its potential rescue mission, (STS-400) in case Atlantis was unable to return home, and now is preparing for the STS-127, which will hopefully launch around June 13. Watch the video of the rollaround below. And the next missions to the Moon are now poised for launch.
On May 28, the Lunar Reconnaissaince Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellitespacecraft were transported to the launch pad. The transport of the stacked and encapsulated LRO/LCROSS payload began at about 2 am local time and culminated with the attachment of the payload atop the Atlas AV-20 rocket at about 9:30am.
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The spacecraft will launch together June 17 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Using a suite of seven instruments, LRO will help identify safe landing sites for future human explorers, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment and test new technology. LCROSS will seek a definitive answer about the presence of water ice at the lunar poles. LCROSS will use the spent second stage Atlas Centaur rocket in an unprecedented way that will culminate with two spectacular impacts on the moon’s surface.