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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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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.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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