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« Newest Atlantis Crew Member »

Umber Ljungberg, the newest Atlantis crew member. Click to enlarge.
The exploration of the final frontier - space - is the bastion of the macho man and his obedient women assistants. There is an intense ferociousness, which can only be described as macho, when you are strapped into a hulking metal shuttle hurtling through the atmosphere only to be dispensed into the vast and terrifying expanse of the universe. One crew member on the next shuttle Atlantic mission will be the most macho of them all.

Six NASA crew members, dressed in their smart orange spacesuits, will be hand selected for their courage and strength. The newest Atlantis crew member is maverick American test pilot Umber Ljungberg, a man who has survived 12 devastating mid-air explosions and the contempt of men much less macho than him.

"I am honored to have been selected for the next Atlantis mission," says Ljungberg. "I am going to space, I mean the really big space, you don't get to go there everyday!"

Atlantis' mission will be the first in more than three years to resume construction on the space station, which is only half-built. Atlantis is delivering to the space station a 35,000-pound, 45-foot-long addition, and .

atlantic crewAtlantis' commander, Brent Jett, described the goals of the upcoming 11-day mission as the most aggressive in the shuttle program's 25-year history. A spacewalk is scheduled for the day after the shuttle docks with the space station, and two other spacewalks are scheduled in the following days.

"I think the most challenging thing for us on this flight is going to be the spacewalks," Jett told reporters. "We needed someone like Ljungberg to be strong enough to make the very aggressive walks."

NASA managers will decide whether to give final approval for the launch at a meeting set for next week at the Kennedy Space Center. Some engineers had expressed reservations about the last shuttle flight over concerns about the design of the foam on the tank, but the success of that flight put to rest many of those worries.

"All I know is that when I take that first step into space, I am cracking open a tall cold one and watching it turn to ice right in front me. And it will be a Budweiser, America's beer," proclaims the confident Ljungberg.

The launch window is from Aug. 27 to Sept. 13, but NASA managers want to launch in the early part of the window to avoid a scheduling conflict with the Russian space agency, which is set to launch a Soyuz vehicle to the space station in mid-September.

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