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Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off at 11:29 a.m.

Space shuttle Atlantis launched today, marking the final mission and complete retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet.

Atlantis is the last of three remaining operational orbiters in NASA's Space Shuttle fleet. In February 2011, Space Shuttle Discovery was the first of the three to launch on its final mission after nearly 30 years of space travel. Then, in April 2011, Space Shuttle Endeavour was set to launch, but was delayed due to a broken set of heaters. It took off on its final mission in mid May instead.

Now, NASA's Space Shuttle fleet will be three-for-three as Atlantis blasts into orbit for its last mission as well.

Space Shuttle Atlantis first flew into space on mission STS-51-J in October 1985. It has completed 32 missions, spent 293 days in space, carried 191 crews and has traveled 120,650,907 miles. Atlantis is the only orbiter that cannot draw power from the International Space Station while docked there. Instead, it must provide its own power for fuel cells.

Today marks Atlantis' 33rd and final mission, STS-135. It will be a 12-day mission to the International Space Station with the purpose of delivering supplies and spare parts, which will be contained in the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module.

Atlantis mission STS-135 carries a crew of four, including Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

"That is the most beautiful vehicle we've had to fly in space, ever, and it's going to be a long time until you see a vehicle roll out to the pad that looks as beautiful as that," said Walheim. "How can you beat that? An airplane on the side of a rocket. It's absolutely stunning."

Space shuttle Atlantis took off at 11:29 a.m. ET from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. While some reports noted that weather could be obstacle possibly causing a delay, the astronauts started boarding Atlantis around 8:00 a.m. and the hatch was closed around 9:21 a.m. for flight.

Reports have estimated that the crowd gathered in the area to see the launch ranged from 500,000 to 1 million people.

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RE: I will truly miss the Shuttles
By geddarkstorm on 7/8/2011 2:29:56 PM , Rating: 2
I should also point out that the shuttle's design is not for deep space exploration (like going to the moon or Mars). That would, as things stand, require the tried and true "can on a stick". But nothing yet equals the shuttles LEO capabilities. It's a serious workhorse, a space truck if you will, that's its nitch; able to do what no other launch vehicle can. And now that it's retired, we are sorely lacking capabilities.

A true space fleets requires diversity to fill multiple different roles. No one design is the "best" for everything. But the shuttle, for the -specific- role it has, is not "bad" in any way, shape, or form.

RE: I will truly miss the Shuttles
By maven81 on 7/8/2011 3:51:26 PM , Rating: 2
I think that's where we disagree. Having seen the prototype Enterprise at the air and space museum I just had to shake my head at what an odd approach it is to space travel. The thing is huge, very heavy, yet has the lifting capacity of a much cheaper booster like the Delta-4 Heavy, Atlas-5 or the old workhorse Proton. So for lifting cargo it's wasting a huge amount of mass. For hauling crews it's severe overkill (the crew cabin is a small section of the shuttle). If you wanted humans launching cargo it's also overkill (you'd need a pilot and payload specialist, here the crew of 7 is unnecessary).
So if you look at either flying cargo or flying people it doesn't seem to be particularly well suited to either. It does have the capability of bring cargo back, but this has never been used on a regular basis.
And that's even before you look at the lofty goals that were set for it, such as flight rates and cost projections.

By geddarkstorm on 7/8/2011 4:08:08 PM , Rating: 2
You are absolutely right, they did over generalize it. Basically, they put a whole rocket fleet into one design, which as you point out means it doesn't do anything especially well. But it does make it remarkably flexible; something useful for scientific missions that were its main focus. It's just, was this flexibility what we really need, especially going forward?

It shouldn't be hard to take the shuttle, modernize it, lighten it, make it more cost effective, as well as make specific derivatives: some for cargo, some for crew. But maybe rocket designs will do it better. It doesn't mean the shuttle was a bad design though. It is peculiar, and it's also beautiful, and we have learned so much from it we never would have been able to otherwise; and accomplished great things (like with the shuttles manipulation arm).

The shuttle is not the end all be all, and it is very expensive for its size. But, that's no reason to retire it, not now when the ISS is sitting in lurch and there is no replacement on our launch pads!

By Jeffk464 on 7/8/2011 7:11:49 PM , Rating: 2
Yup, separate the crew from the cargo. Only one of your rockets has to be human safe and people just aren't that darn heavy. There is absolutely no need for human pilots or cargo specialists anymore, this can all be done automatically. I say just let the private companies run people up to LEO. NASA should concentrate on their beyond LEO scientific stuff, whether manned or unmanned.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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