Atlantis blasts off on final mission
Venerable shuttle's swan song
Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off today on its STS-132 mission to the International Space Station - the final flight for the venerable vehicle.
Atlantis departed Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A at 18:20 GMT, carrying a Russian Mini Research Module (MRM), and replacement parts and spares for the orbiting outpost.
On board for the 12-day excursion are commander Ken Ham, pilot Tony Antonelli, and mission specialists Steve Bowen, Michael Good, Garrett Reisman and Piers Sellers. The mission involves three spacewalks, during which the team will replace six batteries on the port truss which store energy from solar panels on that truss, bolt on a spare space-to-ground Ku-band antenna and attach a new tool platform to Canada's Dextre robotic arm.
The MRM, dubbed Rassvet ("Dawn"), will provide "additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft", and also has " important hardware on its exterior including a radiator, airlock and a European robotic arm". It'll be permanently attached to the bottom port of the station’s Zarya module.
STS-132 is Atlantis's 32nd mission (full shuttle mission archive here). The shuttle - "named after the two-masted boat that served as the primary research vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts from 1930 to 1966" - first flew on 3 October 1985, carrying a classified Department of Defense payload. Its later career included four further Department of Defense flights, as well as carrying aloft planetary probes Magellan and Galileo and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.
On 27 June, 1995, it blasted off on the first Shuttle-Mir docking expedition (pictured), and in 1996 returned to ferry astronaut Shannon Lucid back to terra firma after her record 188 days in orbit aboard the Russian station.
Atlantis then did sterling work on the ISS assembly and supply programme, punctuated by the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in May 2009.
Commander Ken Ham said of Atlantis's swan song: "If this does turn out to be the last flight of Atlantis*, this is the kind of thing that will hit all of us after we're done with the mission and we realize what part of history we may have played."
* Ham is presumably referring to a possible "STS-135" mission, with Atlantis prepared for launch should the STS-134 crew require rescue. If this proves unnecessary, the shuttle's state of readiness could then justify flying a mission to the ISS. Barack Obama made no mention of extending the shuttle programme beyond the current planned launches when he outlined his future space vision last month.
It was a really pretty day with no clouds to block the view. I got to see it from the 3rd floor at work in Orlando, and took a movie and a ton of pics. I'll miss Atlantis, but the Shuttles are Model-Ts and we need to get a real space program. Go Space-X.
"I'll miss Atlantis, but the Shuttles are Model-Ts and we need to get a real space program. "
If only it *was* like a model-T.
Driveable by nearly everyone (although by modern standards it's a pig to control)
Available to anyone with enough cash
It was more like the typical European car of the time. An extremely expensive status symbol supported by specialist staff hired *only* to support it and purchased by the extremely wealthy of the time.
People talk about space launch needing the equivalent of the 707. We have yet to see the space equivalent of the DC3. And while the North Alabama Space Administration does the thinking for US space policy, we never will.
End of an era
This really is weird reading about an actual last flight, relish these last few missions before an inevitable lull while we wait for the next 'routine' programme. That's what we really want, space travel to be routine, not some never-ending development effort.