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NASA sets shuttle Atlantis launch on July 8


NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (AP): The last space shuttle launch ever is set for July 8.

NASA managers met at Kennedy Space Centre Tuesday and confirmed Friday, July 8, as the launch date for Atlantis. The 12-day mission will close out the 30-year shuttle programme.

NASA's chief of space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, said there was no fanfare at the gathering, just a thorough look at the mission and all the problems resolved in recent weeks by the shuttle team.

Atlantis will fly to the International Space Station with a year's worth of supplies. That's enough to keep the outpost going in case private US companies fall behind in their effort to launch their own cargo ships. The first such flight is targeted for later this year.

"This flight is incredibly important to space station," Gerstenmaier told reporters. "The cargo that is coming up on this flight is really mandatory."

Four veteran astronauts will be aboard Atlantis for this grand finale.

NASA spent the past week testing a new fuel valve installed in one of Atlantis' main engines to stop a leak found during a fuelling test. A small particle was found in the removed valve and likely contributed to the leak, Gerstenmaier said.

Technicians also X-rayed support brackets on the external fuel tank. No cracking was discovered. The testing was ordered after cracks popped up on the struts on Discovery's tank last November. Repairs took care of the problem on Discovery and also Atlantis.

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