Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off For Final Flight

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The space shuttle Atlantis, carrying a crew of six, a Russian docking module and critical spare parts, vaulted into orbit Friday on a 12-day space station assembly mission, the orbiter’s 32nd and final planned flight after a quarter century of service.

With NASA bracing for the looming retirement of the shuttle fleet after a final three missions, Atlantis roared to life and rocketed away from its seaside pad at 2:20 p.m. Eastern time. The eight-and-a-half-minute ascent appeared normal as the spacecraft climbed through a partly cloudy sky, putting on a familiar, soon-to-be-missed show for area residents and tourists who turned out in droves to catch a glimpse of Atlantis’s final launching.

A camera mounted on the shuttle’s external tank provided dramatic views of the climb to space with no obvious signs of foam insulation or other debris that might have caused any damage.

Strapped in on Atlantis’s flight deck were Capt. Kenneth T. Ham of the Navy, the commander; Cmdr. Dominic A. Antonelli, also of the Navy, the pilot; the flight engineer, Michael T. Good, a retired Air Force colonel; and Garrett E. Reisman, veteran of a three-month stay aboard the space station in 2008.

Seated on the shuttle’s lower deck were Capt. Stephen G. Bowen of the Navy, a former submariner, and Piers J. Sellers, a British-born astronaut who arranged to carry a piece of bark from Isaac Newton’s apple tree into the weightlessness of space. All six astronauts are shuttle veterans.

If all goes well, Captain Ham will guide Atlantis to a docking with the forward port of the International Space Station early Sunday, kicking off a busy week of assembly work.

The day after docking, Captain Bowen and Mr. Reisman plan to stage a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk to install a spare Ku-band dish antenna and to mount an equipment stowage platform on a Canadian robot arm extension. The next day, Mr. Reisman, operating the station arm from inside the station’s new multiwindow cupola, will attach the 17,760-pound Rassvetmodule to the Earth-facing port of the central Russian Zarya module.

The new compartment will serve as an extended docking compartment, providing needed clearance between the Russian segment’s forward port and an American storage module scheduled for installation on the next shuttle mission later this year. The new module was loaded with 1.5 tons of American supplies and equipment for launch aboard Atlantis.

The day after the Rassvet installation, Captain Bowen and Mr. Good will stage a spacewalk to begin replacing six 375-pound batteries in the station’s far left set of solar arrays. A final spacewalk with Mr. Reisman and Mr. Good is planned to finish up the work.

Atlantis is scheduled to undock from the space station May 23 and land back at the Kennedy Space Center around 8:44 a.m. on May 26.

While this is Atlantis’s final planned mission, the shuttle will be processed for use as an emergency rescue vehicle to support NASA’s final planned shuttle flight late this year or early next.

NASA managers are looking into the possibility of actually launching Atlantis and a four-person crew on a space station resupply mission to take advantage of the external tank and boosters that otherwise would go to waste. The astronauts could use the space station as a safe haven in the event of major problems and rotate back to Earth aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, eliminating the need for a shuttle rescue mission. A decision is expected early this summer.

(Source: NY Times)


4 COMMENTS

  1. Notice how the space station never does anything?

    The most they did recently was to conduct some silly experiments recommended by high school science projects. And a few poster pictures from the Hubble, hardly better than what a British man recently took with $300 worth of Pentax camera and helium.

    It’s just a big high school science project in the sky, proving nothing, going nowhere, accomplishing nothing, and eating up vital tax dollars.

    For one purpose only. To please the ‘science fans’ of the country. Childish, post-science fiction fans getting dream fulfillment to their fantasies of space travel. These few immature voters are not worth it.

    Cancel the space program, its a gargantuan waste of $$$!

  2. Without those ” Childish, post-science fiction fans getting dream fulfillment to their fantasies of space travel.”, as you so wrongly call them, you would not have cell phones.

    And internet access if it existed at all, would be far more expensive, and far more limited in scope and availability, then it is now.

    You would also have much lower quailty of weather prediction and severe storm warnings which save lives every year.

    There are many benefits of the space program and these are just a tiny few of some of the more obvious ones.

    This reminds me of the early days when home based computers was still a relatively new concept and they had just invented a 30 LB monster (by todays standards) that was the first “portable computer”.

    They were also just starting to sell color monitors and many business people back then said “what do we need color for, it’s just a waste for kids who want to play video games on them”.

    Now those same businessmen would look at someone like they were idiots from the stone age if they had no color monitors.

    You can’t even find a laptop without a color screen, at least nothing used by any executives in any wetern companies.

    Free health care and free schol lunches are afar bigger waste of taxpayer dollars then is the space program.

    “Animal rights police” are a far bigger waste of money then the space program and they are also unconstitutional.

    Anti transfats laws and their enforcement are a bigger waste of taxpayer dollars then the space program and they too are unconstitutional and further they hinder bussiness which further suppresses profits, from which tax dollars can be taken.

    Attacking the space program is poor and counter productive ‘way’, to ‘save money’ especially when there are so many programs that are truly wastes of money that are not being stopped.

  3. I meant to specify free health care for illegal aliens, although there are many ‘citizens’ getting the free care that could afford to pay for theirs, as well.

  4. hereorthere:

    Ummm, I think you forgot to add the creation of the wheel to your list of things space travel made. And also the train, and the radio. And antibiotics.

    All because of space travel. Yep.

    Nobody would ever have invented the cell phone without it.

    Absolutely absurd. Anything like a cell phone or a computer was in development anyway without a shred of space travel. In fact, even the printed circuit was only added to space tech after it was already invented for earth-based purposes. I know because I know the man who’s company made those things for NASA before the printed circuit knocked him out of business.

    The reasoning is obvious to mature adults. The printed circuit, the computer chip, and so on, are products that demand hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and produce. The dinky little space program could never justify that expense!

    The space program got a free ride on the transistor radio, no the other way around.

    Go re-read your old Sci Fi books and enjoy your fantasies, hereor there!