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Rassvet Mini-Research Module being installed  (Source: NASA)

Atlantis docked to the ISS for the last time  (Source: NASA)
Hope remains for one more mission

 

Space shuttle Atlantis has returned to NASA's Kennedy Space Center after its final planned mission. STS-132 was a delivery and assembly mission to the International Space Station, and saw the addition of the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1 (known also as Rassvet, Russian for "dawn"). The module provides additional storage space and a new docking port for Russia's Soyuz and Progress spacecraft when they resupply the ISS.

The three spacewalks of STS-132 focused mostly on replacing and installing components outside the station, including replacing six batteries on the P6 truss segment, installing a spare Ku-band Space To Ground Antenna (SGANT), and adding parts to the Dextre robotic arm, one of Canada's primary contributions to the ISS.

It is not surprising that a large number of memorabilia was onboard Atlantis for her final flight. Thousands of flags, pins, and patches will be distributed by NASA. One of the more interesting pieces was a 4-inch wood sample supposedly from Sir Isaac Newton's apple tree that inspired his Theory of Gravity.

Atlantis has the Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-104, and was the last of the original space shuttle fleet to be built. Final assembly was completed on April 10, 1984, but Atlantis didn't take off on its first mission until October of 1985. During its missions, it has docked with Mir; deployed the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory; supported Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4; and helped install the Destiny Module, Columbus lab, and P3/P4 truss segments on the ISS.

STS-132 was the 132nd shuttle flight, the 32nd flight for Atlantis and the 34th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance.

NASA isn't quite done with Atlantis though. In the wake of the Columbia disaster, the agency has a requirement for a backup shuttle to be ready for a Launch On Need (LON) mission. These missions would be mounted to rescue the crew of a Space Shuttle if their vehicle was damaged and deemed unable to make a successful reentry. The ISS has had sufficient room and supplies to provide shelter for astronauts since STS-125, making LON missions unnecessary. However, the final space shuttle mission (STS-134) requires Atlantis as a LON shuttle. The rescue mission would be designated STS-335 if it is needed.

A remote possibility also exists for one more mission if STS-335 is not needed. Atlantis, its external tank, and two solid rocket boosters will have been prepared to flight-ready status for STS-335. A potential STS-135 mission would use this prepped, readied, and paid-for hardware to fly a full operational mission to the ISS. It would be an extremely simple mission to deliver supplies to the ISS via a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM). The large pressurized container is used to transfer cargo to and from the ISS, and will need all the spares it can get before the shuttle fleet is retired. The mission is contingent on Congressional approval, and is not currently planned.

Regardless of the outcome, NASA plans to sell Atlantis to an education institution or museum for $28.8 million.

The stage is now set for the final mission for space shuttle Discovery on STS-133, currently targeted to lift off in September 2010. Discovery's flight will deliver the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, a rebuilt MPLM, to house experiments and spare parts. STS-133 will also bring critical spare components and a cargo carrier to the station. Robonaut 2, or R2, will be the first human-like robot in space when it flies on Discovery to become a permanent resident of the station. 

 



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Bummer :(
By NanoTube1 on 5/26/2010 3:50:57 PM , Rating: 5
I can't believe that the US doesn't have a ready replacement for the shuttles.
It's depressing...




RE: Bummer :(
By hellokeith on 5/26/2010 5:25:26 PM , Rating: 4
There are two arguments:

1) The Shuttle fleet is not safe. I completely agree with this assessment. However, space flight will never be safe, and since there is no alternative, it is well worth the risk. If the most intelligent, highly-trained, cool-under-pressure people in the world - US astronauts - are still lining up to train for 5 to 10 years to be on a single Shuttle flight, then I feel pretty good about the safety measures being taken.

2) The Shuttle program is expensive. I completely agree with this assessment. And if the federal government was cutting spending across the board, I would gladly accept it. But the administration is not. Their own deficit budget project a doubling of the national debt - now 12 trillion dollars - to 20 trillion in less than 10 years. It makes absolutely no sense to say the Shuttle program is too expensive to run when its costs are miniscule to the gargantuan expansion of social programs which expand government and will sink this country in unrecoverable debt.


RE: Bummer :(
By delphinus100 on 5/26/2010 10:45:40 PM , Rating: 3
I don't like it either, but then, Mercury did not overlap with Gemini, did not overlap with Apollo, did not overlap with the Shuttle.

What makes this 'gap' different, is a space station that we mostly built, and still want to reach, before the next transportation system, whatever it/they are, come on line.


So what now?
By RjBass on 5/26/2010 12:29:26 PM , Rating: 3
I understand that the shuttle fleet is getting really old and needs to be replaced, but shouldn't we continue to use them until the replacement vehicle is ready? As I understand it, the next transport vehicle is still 5 to 10 years away. Is it really cheaper for us to use the Russians to get parts and people up there, or could a possible commercial space company fill the void? All the same, I really think we need to keeps the shuttles flying, at least one or two missions a year, just till we get our replacement vehicle off the ground.




RE: So what now?
By nafhan on 5/26/2010 1:29:20 PM , Rating: 2
In a word, yes. It's very expensive to keep the space shuttle flying.
Really, the best argument for keeping the space shuttle around is that without it the US does not have indigenous manned space flight capability. Officially, the cost of keeping the space shuttle going would slow down development of future US manned space efforts.
Personally, I'm OK with dropping the space shuttle, but I'm worried that the money saved by no longer flying the shuttle will just disappear rather than going into future space flight developments.


RE: So what now?
By geddarkstorm on 5/26/2010 2:26:28 PM , Rating: 2
All space programs are expensive if they are active.

The shuttle is an amazing revolutionary design when you look at it in historical context. It's had only two loses--one due to clear human error running the ship well outside its operating spec for publicity purposes, and the other due to a true accident with the design. That's an amazing record.

And, you'd think we'd take everything we've learned from nearly three decades of using them, and make a much improved version with all our new technology. But, there seems to be a decided lack of ingenuity at NASA lately; at least at what we can publicly see.


I thought it was spam
By Zerovoltage on 5/26/2010 1:23:45 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
4-inch wood sample supposedly from Sir Isaac Newton's apple tree


I knew I shouldn't have been so hasty to say no thanks when I got that pop up about Isaac's 4-inch wood.

*I realize this comment has insured a death by gravitational force some time in my future.




RE: I thought it was spam
By BruceLeet on 5/27/2010 11:43:38 PM , Rating: 1
You said "NO" to some guys 4 inch wood popping up at you.

You made the right decision.


Why doesn't Bill Gates buy it
By c4v3man on 5/26/2010 2:17:46 PM , Rating: 2
And use it as some sort of floating tomb that he could be buried in... He could have a Bing TombTracker page that would allow us to view it from earth...




RE: Why doesn't Bill Gates buy it
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 5/26/2010 4:19:54 PM , Rating: 2
Well I do not know about Bill buying it, but why not leave it up in space... Extra room for the space station and an emergency escape device if needed sometime in the future.


By delphinus100 on 5/26/2010 10:40:33 PM , Rating: 2
Orbiters have a finite on-orbit lifetime. H2 and O2 for their fuel cells (and other consumables), that can't be replenished in flight, for example.

(And more experience with cryofluid transfer in microgravity is something we need, for various other reasons...)

Changing the attitude, and altitude re-boosts won't be any easier with that awkward mass permanently on a docking port, either.

I also wonder what atomic oxygen exposure during many months of orbit time would do to the thermal protection tiles? My personal guess is that determining that is one of the purposes of the current X-37 flight...


Annual cost
By acsa77 on 5/27/2010 4:16:02 AM , Rating: 2
...of the shuttle program is so extraordinary high, that even with regular flights it would be too high. This year the cost/flight is obviously the highest. The creation of the shuttle was at the beginning full of compromises. They should've waited and built a better and safer design like Buran. But one learns from mistakes. Even without any cargo-returning ability in the 20th century the compromises of once-deployable cargo would have been outrun by the possibilities of the liberated funds. E.g. for an earlier Mars-expedition or Moonbase or ISS. Once-deployable cargo is not a problem since we are far from the mass-production or mass service era. X33 was a glimpse of mass-service but it is not really required.




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