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Space Shuttle Atlantis

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Final Flight of Atlantis

 

Photograph courtesy NASA

 

 

Moments before liftoff, the engines of the

space shuttle Atlantis ignite, shooting out a plume of exhaust over the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis launched at 2:20 p.m. ET on May 14 carrying six astronauts, a new research module for the International Space Station, and replacement electronic equipment

 

The shuttle landed Wednesday at Kennedy at 8:48 a.m. ET after a 12-day mission,

bringing to a close the final scheduled flight for Atlantis.

"It certainly did strike me walking around the orbiter today that I probably just did the coolest thing I'll ever do in my life—and it's behind me," flight commander Kenneth Ham said today during a post-landing press briefing

 

"It's great, and it's a great memory, but it's over"

NASA plans to stop flying space shuttles by the end of the year, and just two launches remain on the slate. Discovery will fly in September, followed by Endeavour in November

With the Constellation program for a human return to the moon effectively canceled, the only way for U.S. astronauts to reach space after the shuttles have been retired will be with the Russian-run Soyuz program—unless

private space travel takes off

 

 

 

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Space Shuttle Exhaust Loop

 

 

An exhaust plume from space shuttle Atlantis hangs in the blue sky over Florida after the shuttle's successful launch earlier this month

Atlantis's final mission was the spacecraft's 11th trip to the International Space Station. During its lifetime, Atlantis traveled to the Russian space station Mir seven times, and it deployed the Magellan mission to Venus and the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, both in 1989

 

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Atlantis Lookout

 

 

Photograph courtesy NASA

 

Pilot Tony Antonelli looks through a window on space shuttle Atlantis on May 15, the second day of the ship's last mission. The final flight of Atlantis was Antonelli's second trip to space

The astronaut told NASA in a pre-launch interview, published on the space agency's website, that during his first flight, "when we had a little bit of time off, I spent some time just looking out the window, and it dawned on me that everybody I know is from here, Earth, and everybody that they know is also from here

"It definitely makes the place look small and makes it seem like we should be a lot more neighborly than we are"

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Atlantis Approaches

Photograph courtesy NASA

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station snapped the underside of Atlantis as the space shuttle seemed to hover above Earth during Atlantis's approach to the station. The shuttle docked with the space station at 10:28 a.m. ET on May 16

"You are brilliantly glowing," shuttle commander Ken Ham reportedly told the crew of the space station as Atlantis closed in for docking, according to the Associated Press

AP also reported that Japanese space station crew member Soichi Noguchi greeted the Atlantis crew with a "yee-haw!"

 

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"Dawn" on Atlantis

 

Photograph courtesy NASA

Shortly after Atlantis had docked with the International Space Station, a station crew member took this picture of the space shuttle seeming to intersect Earth's atmosphere, which is lighted on the horizon.

 

As part of its final mission, Atlantis delivered the Russian-built research module Rassvet, meaning "dawn," which can be seen in the shuttle's open payload bay.

In addition to serving as a cargo hold for the space station, Rassvet will be used as a docking port for visiting spacecraft

 

 

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Atlantis's Docking Position

 

Photograph courtesy NASA

 

The

space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station hang connected over Earth, as seen in a picture taken during the mission's first spacewalk on May 17

Atlantis crew members Garrett Reisman and Stephen Bowen spent 7.5 hours spacewalking that day. The astronauts installed a spare antenna and hooked up a storage platform for Dextre, an extension to the

station's 58-foot-long (17.6-meter-long) robotic arm

The remaining two spacewalks in the mission were dedicated to replacing six 375-pound (170-kilogram) batteries and performing other station maintenance

Reisman spent the entire first spacewalk at the end of the robotic arm. According to AP, at one point Reisman radioed back to NASA: "I might only be about five-foot-four [163 centimeters], but right now, I think I'm the highest person around. Woooo!"

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"Hi, Mom!"

 

Photograph courtesy NASA

 

NASA astronaut Bowen waves to the camera during the first spacewalk of Atlantis's 12-day mission. The jaunt outside the space shuttle on May 17 was the third spacewalk of Bowen's career, marking nearly 30 hours of extravehicular activity for the astronaut.

The spacewalk was lengthened by a few minutes when the International Space Station's main computer suddenly crashed.

A backup computer immediately kicked in, and NASA officials say the astronauts were never in danger. But for about 15 minutes, the video cameras monitoring the station's robotic arm—where second spacewalker Garrett Reisman was perched—weren't functioning.

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Catch Your Vegetables

 

Photograph courtesy NASA

Fresh bell peppers and a bag of grapes float on May 16 next to Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, both currently crew members on the International Space Station

In addition to the research module and spare parts, Atlantis delivered one and a half tons of food, clothing, and supplies to the station's crew during this space shuttle's final mission

 

 

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Smooth Landing for Atlantis

 

 

Contrails rise from the wingtips of the space shuttle Atlantis as it heads toward a successful landing at Florida's Kennedy Space Center on May 26

About 15 minutes before landing, as the shuttle glides roughly 40 miles (64 kilometers) above

Earth's surface, the outer

hull can reach temperatures of 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,593 degrees Celsius)

Unless there's an emergency on the International Space Station or trouble with the Discovery and Endeavour space shuttle launches later this year, today's smooth landing means that Atlantis's final flight has come and gone

About two dozen museums across the country—including the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex; the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City; and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.—have submitted paperwork to take the shuttle off NASA's hands

But Atlantis comes with a steep price: U.S. $28.8 million. That's not a sales price, it's simply the cost of cleaning and transporting the shuttle to its final destination.

Published May 26, 2010

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