SAN FRANCISCO - NASA has cleared the way for the Atlantis shuttle launch next week on a mission to equip the space station with a new science lab.
The 11-day mission is scheduled for launching from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday at 3:31 p.m., CST. Liftoff will come about a month after the flight of the shuttle Discovery to the space station.
NASA has one week in December to get Atlantis off the ground with Columbus.
If there are delays, the launch will have to be postponed January because of unfavorable sun angles for the docked shuttle and a concern that flying at the end of the year may be an issue. NASA wants to avoid the date switch to 2008 in the computer software while on a mission.
A multinational crew of seven astronauts led by Atlantis commander Steve Frick will go on three spacewalks to attach the new lab and its external experiment platforms to the station.
The astronauts will latch the European Space Agency's lab to the Harmony gateway compartment that was delivered by the Discovery's crew.