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NASA targets final space shuttle launch on July 8

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Space shuttle Atlantis.

WASHINGTON (BNS): NASA is preparing for the final launch of its space shuttle programme by flying Atlantis to the International Space Station on July 8.

The spacecraft, with the STS-135 mission, is targeted to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at around 15: 40 (GMT).

Atlantis is slated to carry four veteran astronauts to the ISS to deliver supplies and spare parts for the orbiting outpost.

The target launch date for Atlantis' 12-day mission is based on NASA's current planning. An official launch date will be announced following the mission's Flight Readiness Review on June 28.

During the final shuttle flight, Atlantis will also deliver an experiment "to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space – even satellites not designed to be serviced," NASA officials said.

The four-astronaut crew will return an ammonia pump that failed on the space station in July 2010. Engineers want to understand why the pump failed and hope to use the knowledge to improve designs for future spacecraft.

Atlantis' STS-135 mission will mark the 135th and final flight for NASA's space shuttle programme after 30 years of spaceflight. The space shuttles are retiring in order to make way for a new space exploration programme aimed at sending astronauts on deep space missions to visit an asteroid by 2025, and then aim for Mars.

After Atlantis' final flight, the shuttle will be sent to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex for public display.

NASA's two other space flown shuttles, Endeavour and Discovery, will also be sent to museums.

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