Cape Canaveral: NASA cleared the space shuttle Atlantis for liftoff on Friday to deliver a Russian docking module to the International Space Station on what is expected to be the ship`s final flight.
Launch is targeted for 2:20 pm EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The 132nd space shuttle mission is the third of five flights scheduled for this year, after which the United States plans to retire its three-ship shuttle fleet due to cost and safety concerns.
"It`s been a glorious career," Mike Moses, head of the shuttle mission management team, said on Wednesday. "We`re not taking a lot of time reflecting back here before launch, but I`m sure once she gets back we`ll have a few celebrations. It`s a bittersweet time."
President Barack Obama wants to scrap NASA`s planned follow-on program to return astronauts to the moon and instead invest in new technologies and heavy-lift rockets for travel beyond Earth`s orbit. Obama`s plan calls for commercial firms to fly astronauts to and from the space station, a service the United States now pays Russia USD 51 million a seat to provide.
Only three countries -- the United States, Russia and China -- have ever launched people into orbit. China is not a member of the 16-nation space station partnership.