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Bay Area Astronaut Part Of Final Space Shuttle Mission

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Space shuttle Atlantis mission specialist Rex Walheim after he and the shuttle crew arrived July 4, 2011 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in advance of the July 8 launch of STS-135, the final flight of the shuttle program. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Space shuttle Atlantis mission specialist Rex Walheim after he and the shuttle crew arrived July 4, 2011 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in advance of the July 8 launch of STS-135, the final flight of the shuttle program. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

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SAN CARLOS (CBS SF) — A Bay Area man will be one of four astronauts heading off to space Friday morning in the final trip for the Atlantis space shuttle, a NASA Ames Research Center spokeswoman said.

Rex Walheim, 48, from the San Carlos area, will be launched into space at 8:26 a.m. Friday from Florida’s Cape Canaveral 39A launch pad with three other astronauts.

The purpose of the mission is to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station, NASA Ames Research Center spokeswoman Cathy Weselby said.

Walheim grew up in the Bay Area and is a University of California at Berkeley alumnus who graduated in 1980 with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, university spokeswoman Sarah Yang said.

“The College of Engineering is aware and proud of his accomplishments,” she said.

Bay Area space fanatics will celebrate the final, historic launch on Friday morning with launch parties at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland and at the NASA research center in Moffett Field.

Chabot Space and Science Center spokesman Robert Ade said Friday’s launch is like a “Super Bowl party for space enthusiasts.”

The Oakland science museum on 10000 Skyline Blvd. will open early at 7:30 a.m. to screen the Florida launch in the megadome theater and on televisions throughout the museum.

Ade said the countdown is exciting and that there is a 10-minute window for the shuttle to take off, then afterward “the tediousness of space travel kicks in.”

Museum visitors will be able to hear what the NASA mission controllers are saying and can visit a mock mission control at the museum while watching the official NASA broadcast of the Atlantis lift-off.

In Moffett Field at the NASA Ames Research Center, guests can watch the launch live at the NASA Exploration Center at 7:30 a.m. The viewing will also commemorate the Atlantis’ final trip, Weselby said. The launch will be screened on the research center’s big screen during the free event.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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