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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 niva on 7/8/2011 4:29:22 PM , Rating: 2
The launch abort systems on the shuttle are not safe or proven methods for saving the crew. Most folks familiar with a RTLS (immediate return to KSC due to an early failure during launch) abort will tell you that it's very highly that it will result in a loss of the vehicle and crew.

It takes an army to maintain the shuttle. Parts are non-existent and manufacturing is extremely expensive.

NASA's budget is not little, I wish it was bigger, 3x the budget would probably allow for things to happen... but the shuttle needs to be retired for now. It's very risky and with each flight the risk increases. The ISS could've been built w/o the shuttle, look at how the Russians built their side of the ISS, or Mir for that matter.

If you're also going to use statistics (to the above posters) you should include all the progress launches in the statistic shown there. The progress vehicle is pretty much identical to the soyuz, just doesn't carry crew and doesn't undergo the same super stringent inspection that the Soyuz undergoes.

The Shuttle is an amazing vehicle but under the current conditions it's inoperable. We must return to simpler and safer (currently) ways of spaceflight for humans using capsules. Sadly nothing is available for now to allow the US to launch humans into space. For the first time in decades we will not be a nation with human spaceflight capabilities... that's what hurts the most, it's more psychological than the reality of the situation. Thanks to the shuttle and the ISS we've built an oustanding relationship with the Russians and we can now count on them (with costs of course) to help us until we're ready again with a new vehicle.

By geddarkstorm on 7/8/2011 4:42:48 PM , Rating: 2
The abort systems exist though, so saying they don't is false. And some of them have been used, such as the abort to orbit. Truth is, we never want to have to test these systems. Still, you're right in that the shuttle wasn't built with aborting in mind, which is silly.

You're also right that parts are non-existent, and thus the government contractors can charge absurd prices for them, driving the shuttle way up in cost. No competition is unfortunately a bad thing in these matters. But building a whole new shuttle each time would cost far, far more. Resuability is cost effective in comparison, but a shuttle will not be as cost effective as a small little capsule.

The shuttle needs to be retired, but it would have been best once we had another launch system to replace it. A year or two more. The shuttles are not getting more dangerous with time (they were designed to launch at least double what they've done so far), yet, and the two losses we've had were from extraneous circumstances not wear and tear.

Parts of the ISS would not be buildable without the shuttle's cargo space and design. The Russian modules are also smaller than the rest. An ISS could certainly be built, but not the ISS we know. In the future, we'll have much better capabilities. Unless we give up on space completely and let others like China take over.

The shuttle is not inoperable, but it is old, and it needs to be replaced. Modern tech would do wonders with a design refresh. And that would cost less than completely starting from scratch with Constellation. And now Constellation is gone because it cost too much and we're left with nothing.

Thankfully, private space companies are giving us a future, where the government has kinda given up. I guess that's the price for spending too much money though, and the reckoning we get as a country for the priorities we've set.

By geddarkstorm on 7/8/2011 4:48:11 PM , Rating: 2
I should also point out, much of the shuttle's primary missions were scientific. Things no capsule could have room to ever do, and which required people and scientists actively there to preform. The list of published literature from the shuttle missions are extensive, in everything from biology to material science. The shuttle was a science vessel, and unfortunately science is never economic in the here and now.

Now that we have a space station though, the shuttle is horribly outclassed in that which was its main focus.

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