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"This will be an emotional thing," Leinbach said.
Such a rescue would put four more astronauts at risk and would mean the end of Atlantis, and undoubtedly the space shuttle program, which is set to be phased out in 2010. Atlantis would be sent into the Pacific once its astronauts were aboard Endeavour.
It would rank right up there with the drama of Apollo 13...
In an unprecedented step, a space shuttle was moved to the launch pad Friday for a trip NASA hopes it will never make — a rescue mission.
They would be stranded on their spacecraft at the Hubble, where NASA estimates they could stay alive for 25 days. Air would be the first to go.
It is the first time since 2001 — when flights were more closely spaced — that both of NASA's shuttle pads have been occupied. And it will probably be the last.
On top of the usual launch and landing dangers, the Atlantis crew faces an estimated 1-in-185 chance that a piece of space junk or a micro-meteoroid will cause catastrophic damage to their ship. Those are greater odds than for a typical shuttle flight because of Hubble's extremely high and debris-littered orbit.
Before reaching Hubble and again after leaving it, the Atlantis astronauts will inspect their spacecraft for signs of damage, just as crews always do while in orbit.