NASA: Final Shuttle Launch Targeted For July 8

May 23, 2011 Updated May 23, 2011 at 3:15 PM EDT

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NASA: Final Shuttle Launch Targeted For July 8

May 23, 2011 Updated May 23, 2011 at 3:15 PM EDT

(Space.com) The last space shuttle flight before NASA retires the 30-year program is targeted to launch on July 8, agency officials announced Friday.

The shuttle Atlantis is slated to carry four veteran astronauts to the International Space Station to deliver supplies and spare parts for the orbiting outpost. NASA is targeting to launch Atlantis from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8 at around 11:40 am.

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 in an announcement.

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.

STS-135 will be Atlantis' 33rd and final mission before it is retired, along with the rest of the agency's orbiter fleet. The historic flight will be the 135th and final mission of NASA's space shuttle program.

Chris Ferguson, a veteran of two previous shuttle missions, will command the flight with Doug Hurley as the pilot. Astronauts Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim will be the flight's mission specialists. No spacewalks are planned.

The space shuttles are retiring in order to make way for a new space exploration program 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.

The shuttle Endeavour is currently flying its final mission, called STS-134, and is docked at the International Space Station.

Endeavour and its crew launched Monday to deliver a major astrophysics experiment and perform maintenance on the space station during four spacewalks. Endeavour is due to return to Earth on June 1.