Posts tagged with "Atlantis"
The crew of the International Space Station caught this unprecedented view above of Atlantis' fiery re-entry early Thursday morning, Eastern time.
After this photo was taken Atlantis plummeted into and through the atmosphere where its wings could finally do their thing after the vacuum of space. It was going 14 times the speed of sound over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Atlantis dropped 200 feet per second.
Thirteen minutes later, having circled to scrub off speed, the 225,000-pound glider lumbered over the end of Kennedy Space Center's Runway 15 for the last time at 205 knots to begin its groundbound retirement. Technicians can't go beneath the orbiter for 30 minutes after landing, so hot are its protective tiles.
The pre-dawn radio traffic was full of self-congratulations for the thousands involved in the three-decade effort to explore. NASA plans a 4 p.m. CT public shuttle celebration today at Hangar 990 on Houston's Ellington Airfield to be carried live on NASA-TV.
The four-member Atlantis crew lingered longer than necessary in the cockpit. So did the control room crews at Kennedy and Houston, as they completed their duties for the last time with thousands
of highly-skilled technicians in Florida and Texas now heading for unemployment.
However, the end of the shuttle program appears just the beginning of political battles over pioneering American astronauts now being forced to rent $63 million seats on Russian Soyuz capsules in order to reach space.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, probably a Republican presidential candidate soon, noted the shuttle's demise will cost Houston's manned space flight headquarters alone some 4,000 jobs "forcing NASA away from its original purpose of space exploration and ignoring its groundbreaking past and enormous future potential."
Photo: NASA; Jay Catalano (Atlantis' last launch, July 8); NASA (Atlantis' last landing, July 21).
After almost 25 years and more than 115 million miles, space shuttle Atlantis is down to just one final mission but it will be going out on a high note.
STS-132 will deliver to the International Space Station the Russian Rassvet Mini-Research Module-1, only the second Russian module to ever be carried into space by a space shuttle. Its a fitting final payload for the orbiter that not only launched the first into space, but also was the first shuttle to dock to the Russian Space Station Mir in fact, Atlantis was the shuttle behind seven of the 11 shuttle missions to Mir.
"Atlantis has a history of being the shuttle that did the most international things," said Emily Nelson, lead space station flight director for the mission. "Its the orbiter that the Russians have known best, because its one that came to their space station most often, and its one that we used to deliver a module for them in the past."
Whether or not they recognize it by name, many people are likely familiar with Atlantis work. Besides the visits to Mir, Atlantis carried the Magellan Spacecraft into orbit, sending it on its way to Venus, where it mapped 98 percent of the planet from orbit. The same year 1989 it also deployed the Galileo Spacecraft to Jupiter, where it collected data on the planet and its moons for eight years.
Closer to home, Atlantis has visited the International Space Station 10 times STS-132 will be its 11th trip delivering among other pieces of hardware, the United States Destiny Laboratory and Europes Columbus. And just last year it made the final flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, bringing upgrades that should allow the telescope to see further into the universe than ever for years to come.
"Atlantis has clearly been a work horse of the space shuttle fleet over the years," said Mike Sarafin, lead STS-132 shuttle flight director. "The shuttle program history is pretty complicated, but I think it will show that Atlantis is a remarkable vehicle."
But Atlantis is not finished making history just yet there are still a few firsts in store.
For instance, the installation of Rassvet. Normally when a new piece of the space station is installed, all the work is done (the hooks are engaged and the latches latched to attach the new module to the rest of the station) from the space station side of the equation. Thats true for all of the international partners involved in the station except for Russia. Until now, the Russian modules have all been launched into space on their own, not carried up by a space shuttle, and the Russian system makes use of that by relying on the momentum of the new module as it approaches to force the latches.
That wont be possible this time around. Instead, the STS-132 crew will use the space stations robotic arm to attach it. The arm will be extended to just about its full 58 feet to reach Rassvets home on the Zarya module, which will make it difficult to push with much force. In addition, the commands to the module to work those latches and hooks will have to take a long circuitous route from the robotic arm controls inside the Cupola, through the United States segment of the station to the Russian segment, then back to the United States segment and out through the robotic arm to the Rassvet.
"Installing that module is going to be an interesting day," STS-132 Commander Ken Ham said. "If anything goes wrong in this delicate plan, we have to get it to work right. We think, based on the analyses, that were going to be just fine. However, were prepared for all sorts of problems that could arise getting that thing in there."
If the team is lucky, some of Atlantis good luck will rub off on the module while its in the shuttles cargo bay, and the installation will go off without a hitch Atlantis tends to be the member of the shuttle fleet with the fewest problems in flight, so it wouldnt be out of character.
"Like any home or any car that youve had over the years, the shuttles have their nuances," Sarafin said. "Atlantis tends to behave very well when its flying. Thats a nice luxury to have."
( Yan and Justin )
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