And Then There Were None

Welcome home Atlantis, a safe ending to the thirty year space shuttle program that saw the tragic loss of 40% of the fleet.

Ghostly Landing of Atlantis Closes America’s Space Shuttle Era Forever

Barely discernable in the pre-dawn twilight and appearing as an eerie, ghost like figure, Space Shuttle Atlantis and her four person crew swiftly glided to a triumphant landing at the Kennedy Space Center that closed out NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Era – in the wink of an eye it was all over.

Atlantis touched down almost invisibly on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at 5:57 a.m. EDT and rolled to a stop moments later to conclude the history making 13 day flight to the International Space Station and back. During the STS-135 mission Atlantis orbited the Earth 200 times and journeyed 5,284,862 miles.

The all veteran crew of space flyers comprised of Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.

. . .

“Mission complete, Houston,” radioed Commander Ferguson. “After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It’s come to a final stop.”

See also:
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Lights go dim at Mission Control
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Grounding an exciting, perilous 30-year adventure

Yes, it’s sad that America’s manned space program is effectively grounded for the time being and that thousands of jobs will be lost. However, the space shuttle was arguably America’s most dangerous manned space vehicle, costing 14 lives over three decades.

/the shuttles are old, costly to fly and maintain and, in my opinion, it’s well past time for their retirement, they belong in museums, not in space, we need to move on to newer, safer, and more efficient space travel technology

32nd Time’s A Charm?

So far, so good, Atlantis is less than twelve days, reentry, and a touchdown away from a well deserved retirement after two and a half decades of service.

Shuttle Atlantis streaks into orbit on final planned flight

The shuttle Atlantis blasted off on its 32nd and final planned mission Friday, closing out 25 years of service with a 12-day flight to deliver a Russian docking module and critical spare parts to the International Space Station.

With its three hydrogen-fueled main engines roaring at full thrust, the shuttle’s twin solid-fuel boosters ignited on time at 2:20 p.m. EDT, instantly pushing the fully fueled 4.5-million-pound spacecraft away from pad 39A.

Accelerating through 100 mph–straight up–in just eight seconds, Atlantis wheeled about its long axis and lined up on a trajectory paralleling the East Coast. Liftoff was timed for roughly the moment Earth’s rotation carried the launch pad into the plane of the space station’s orbit, the first step in a two-day rendezvous procedure.

Atlantis quickly arced away to the northeast, putting on a spectacular afternoon sky show for area residents and tourists who gathered along Florida’s “Space Coast” to witness the shuttle’s final planned flight.

Commander Kenneth Ham, pilot Dominic Antonelli, and flight engineer Michael Good monitored the shuttle’s computer-controlled ascent, joined by Stephen Bowen, a former submariner, Piers Sellers, and Garrett Reisman, who spent three months aboard the space station in 2008.

“We’re going to take her on her 32nd flight and if you don’t mind, we’ll take her out of the barn and make a few more laps around the planet,” Ham radioed launch director Mike Leinbach a few minutes before takeoff.

The shuttle’s ascent appeared normal with no obvious impacts from external tank foam insulation. Video from a camera mounted on the side of the tank showed a few bits of insulation separating and falling away, but by that point the shuttle was out of the dense lower atmosphere where debris impacts pose a more significant threat.

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Godspeed Atlantis, perform your last mission flawlessly and bring your crew home safely.

/and then there will be only two shuttle flights remaining before the United States manned spaceflight program is grounded indefinitely on Obama’s orders

Hubble, Hubble, Toil And Trouble

NASA shuttle blasts off on Hubble life-saving mission

While the Hubble Space Telescope was making some pre-shutdown observations today, the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off on a repair mission to the 19-year-old orbiter.

At precisely 2:01 p.m. ET, the shuttle lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (see video) amid a plume of fire and smoke.

The seven-astronaut crew this afternoon began its 11-day mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble telescope, which is orbiting about 350 miles above Earth. The shuttle mission — the last one going to the Hubble — is expected to give the orbiter at least another five years of life, according to the space agency.

About nine minutes after liftoff, Atlantis’ three main engines were cut off as the space shuttle entered orbit. Its external fuel tank was jettisoned.

The shuttle is scheduled to rendezvous with Hubble on Wednesday, when mission specialist Mike Massimino will use the shuttle’s robotic arm to reach out and grab the orbiter and pull it into the shuttle’s payload bay. On Thursday, two astronauts will make the first of the mission’s five spacewalks.

The shuttle is carrying 22,500 pounds of equipment for the telescope, including new grapple hooks and a platform that can be used in case future missions go up to service the telescope. This will be the shuttle’s last trip to Hubble though, since the NASA space shuttles are scheduled to be retired next year.

This week’s mission includes plans to install new gyroscopes, circuit boards and critical camera systems. The NASA astronauts are also bringing up a new backup computer system to replace an onboard backup system that had to be put into use last fall when the main system failed, leaving the Hubble unable to do much of its scientific work. NASA engineers made the remote switchover to a backup system from a room in the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., while the telescope hurtled along its orbit around Earth at 17,500 mph.

See also:
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STS125 (sts125) on Twitter

This is easily the most complex and dangerous shuttle mission ever attempted. So dangerous that, for the first time ever, NASA took the precaution of having another shuttle, Endeavor/STS-127, on the pad, ready to luanch in case of trouble.

Set for launch today, Atlantis has plans to skirt debris

Conditions appear favorable for Atlantis to begin its mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope today — a journey that is expected to include several measures to ensure that the space shuttle avoids any collision with dangerous space debris.

On Sunday NASA officials declared the vehicle ready to go, and predicted just a 10 percent chance of weather conditions precluding a launch.

“We’re not tracking any issues and Atlantis is ready to fly,” said NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson.

NASA technicians filled Atlantis’ fuel tanks early this morning in preparation for a 1:01 p.m. launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

Once they’re in orbit, the seven-member crew will carry out a carefully crafted evasive maneuver to cut the risk of collision space debris during the 11-day flight.

The debris has been sown by a surprise satellite collision in February, a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, and decades of deteriorating space hardware.

The estimated 19,000 pieces of orbiting debris from damaged and destroyed space vehicles could inflict catastrophic damage on a spacecraft.

Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris at Johnson Space Center, says collisions with space debris are “not something you really need to lose sleep over but it is something that we need to be pro-active about.” In this case, pro-active will mean the shuttle will drop from the altitude of the Hubble some 350 miles above the Earth to a safer orbit 160 miles above the Earth as soon the five spacewalks are completed for the Hubble phase of the mission.

In addition, the shuttle is packing twice the normal 12-day supply of provisions to sustain the crew in the event that the orbiter is damaged, forcing the crew to shelter within a crippled spacecraft.

And in an unprecedented move, NASA has positioned shuttle Endeavor on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center to serve as a rescue vehicle in the event of problems.

See also:
Hubble mission especially dangerous
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Debris Collision Risk for Atlantis ‘Within Limits’
Space Junk Forcing More Evasive Maneuvers

And, keep in mind that Hubble was never designed to be repaired or serviced in the first place, let alone in space, and the shuttle astronauts have to dodge space debris while they’re attempting the repairs! Not only is it like trying to conduct delicate brain surgery in a pressurized space suit, it’s like trying to conduct delicate brain surgery in a pressurized space suit, while tethered to a fast moving car, traveling the wrong direction on a busy freeway!

/good luck STS-125 and Godspeed!