They call themselves “The Final Four” — Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim — a diminutive crew slated to launch Friday on NASA’s last space shuttle mission, a cargo run to the International Space Station.
The quartet, all veteran astronauts, boarded a pair of NASA two-seater T-38 training jets on Monday and flew themselves from their Houston headquarters to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where their next ride, shuttle Atlantis, is being prepared for a launch attempt at 11:36 a.m. EDT Friday.
“It’s such a pleasure to come down here when you have a rocket on the pad and it’s got your stuff loaded on it,” Walheim told reporters and photographers gathered at the runway to greet the crew.
In a nod to the Fourth of July, NASA public affairs personnel passed around small American flags. The astronauts were quick to note the holiday.
“This is a day that’s decidedly American, a day where we kind of reflect on our independence and all the wonderful things that we really have as part of being the United States of America,” said Ferguson. “I think it’s wonderful you’ve all come out to join us. I certainly hope, you’ll have an opportunity to go home when this is all done and enjoy some barbecue, some fireworks and some apple pie.”
The three-day launch countdown begins Tuesday.
Image: Ready for liftoff — one last time. Credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA