Space shuttle astronauts arrive for last launch countdown |

Space shuttle astronauts arrive for last launch countdown

STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson, left, and pilot Doug Hurley hold U.S. flags as they listen to mission specialist Sandy Magnus, not shown, speak to the media after arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, July 4, 2011. Atlantis, and her crew of four astronauts, is scheduled to lift off Friday morning on an 12-day mission to the international space station. The launch will bring an end to the shuttle program. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – The four astronauts who will close out NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program arrived Monday for their history-making launch week, saluting the nation’s birthday and all those who contributed to Atlantis’ final flight.

The launch countdown begins Tuesday. Liftoff is set for Friday at 11:26 a.m. before an estimated crowd of up to 1 million people.

Commander Christopher Ferguson and his crew received small American flags as launch director Mike Leinbach greeted them out on the runway. The four needed just two training jets for the flight from their training base in Houston.

“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 a part of being United States of America,” said Ferguson, a retired Navy captain.

“It’s wonderful that you’ve all came out to join us,” he told the approximately 65 photographers and other journalists who swarmed the runway. He urged them to go and enjoy some barbecue, fireworks and apple pie.