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Atlantis: Astronauts arrive in Florida; Twitterers pack for launch

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image The STS-135 crew members arrive at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility for final launch preparations. From left are Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. NASA/Kim Shiflett Photo

Astronauts ready for Friday launch, 150 Twitterers to get experience of a lifetime.


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER —The four astronauts scheduled to fly the last shuttle mission arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the Fourth of July. Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim arrived from Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday afternoon carrying U.S. Flags and the knowledge that their mission will be the last of a 30-year run of uniquely American space exploration and accomplishments. The space shuttle has served as a symbol of the United States to the rest of the world.

STS-135 Atlantis is scheduled to lift off on July 8 at 11:26 a.m. from Kennedy Space Center. It will be the 135th shuttle mission. NASA is quick to point out that the return of Atlantis to Earth after the 12-day mission will not spell the end of human spaceflight. During a press conference on July 2, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden assured Americans that the United States would continue to lead the world in human space exploration. Plans are underway for a possible return to the Moon, or a mission to Mars or an asteroid.

That future, however, may be years away. For now, the entire world is focusing on Atlantis. By some estimates, a million people are expected to crowd into the Titusville area to watch the historic final launch of a shuttle. Tickets to view the launch from both the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex and from the NASA Causeway are sold out. A clear and free view of the launch will be available from Space View Park in Titusville, although arrival at the park at least six to eight hours early is recommended. The shuttle will also be visible for many miles up and down the coast from NASA and even from the Tampa Bay area if the weather is clear.

For some lucky Twitter users, however, the launch will be something they will never forget. NASA has invited 150 followers of their @NASA Twitter account to view the launch from the press and VIP site, only three miles from the launch pad. That is as close as unshielded humans can view it. The Twitter users, chosen at random from more than 5,500 online registrants, represent 44 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and 11 foreign nations. Combined, those Twitter users have more than 1.5 million followers, who will also be able to experience the launch through their live tweets.

The 150 Twitter users will receive a tour of Kennedy Space Center with a close visit to the launch pad. They will also be positioned to wave to the Atlantis crewmembers as they make their way to the shuttle for the launch.

In keeping with that spirit, all four Atlantis crewmembers will be posting updates to Twitter. You can follow them at twitter.com/Astro_Ferg, twitter.com/Astro_Doug, twitter.com/Astro_Sandy and twitter.com/Astro_Rex.

For more information about the launch of Atlantis, visit www.nasa.gov/shuttle and stay with the Observer News for full coverage as Atlantis and America reach for the stars.

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