Space Shuttle Atlantis is poised for launch July 12 to
open a new doorway into space.

The shuttle and its five-member crew will deliver the new
American-made Joint Airlock to the International Space
Station. The six-ton portal will provide astronauts living
aboard the space station access to and from space wearing
either Russian or American space suits, without the need of a
docked shuttle. This gives the orbiting outpost an
unprecedented degree of self-reliance.

“Once the airlock is installed, the hatches between a
visiting space shuttle and the space station can remain
open,” said Mike Hawes, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator
for Space Station. “This is important because in previous
missions we’ve had to open and close the hatches several
times to maintain correct pressure during spacewalks. Now,
we’ll be able to keep those doors open, providing greater
efficiency during joint orbital activities.”

Atlantis is scheduled for liftoff at 5:04 a.m. EDT from
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, FL. Atlantis’ mission,
designated STS-104, will be the fourth space shuttle flight
this year and the 10th shuttle mission dedicated to assembly
of the International Space Station.

Atlantis’ mission includes three spacewalks to install and
outfit the station’s new airlock, including the first-ever
outside spacewalk to originate from the station. This mission
also features unprecedented use of two robotic arms on two
different spacecraft, as the shuttle’s Canadian-built remote
manipulator system will operate in tandem with the station’s
newly installed Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Atlantis’ crew will be commanded by Air Force Lt. Col. Steve
Lindsey, a veteran of two space shuttle missions who flew
with John Glenn during STS-95 in 1998.

The crew also includes pilot Marine Corps Maj. Charlie
Hobaugh and mission specialists Mike Gernhardt, Janet Kavandi
and Jim Reilly. Gernhardt and Reilly, who have been training
for this mission for four years, will perform the planned
space walks, while Kavandi will operate the space shuttles
robotic arm.

“The term Joint Airlock means that it’s applicable to both
the U.S. suit, the EMU, and to the Russian suit, the Orlan
suit,” said Gernhardt. “The main objectives of our flight are
to install four High Pressure Gas Tanks — that would be two
oxygen, two nitrogen — to activate and checkout the airlock,
and then to make the first spacewalk from the Joint Airlock,
and demonstrate the viability of the whole process and sort
of usher in the space station era of EVA.”

With the addition of the Joint Airlock, the space station
will have about 15,000 cubic feet of inhabitable volume, more
room than a conventional three-bedroom house.

Atlantis will be the second shuttle to visit the station
during the stay of the Expedition Two Crew, made up of
Russian Commander Yuri Usachev and American Flight Engineers
Jim Voss and Susan Helms, now in their fourth month aboard
the complex

Atlantis is scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center at
12:56 a.m. EDT July 23.

Additional information on STS-104 and the International Space
Station is available on the Internet at: