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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 maven81 on 7/8/2011 4:44:02 PM , Rating: 2
"Wow, really? You really think there was no launch abort system?"

I should have been more specific, though I did mention catastrophic failure. The abort options you mention are not going to work in the event of an explosion, like challenger. Sure, the cabin survived, but the crew couldn't. One of the Soyz failures that you mentioned, Soyuz T-10A was saved by the abort system. The rocket exploded, but the escape tower moved the spacecraft away, and it landed safely. This can be done with a vertical stack, but not with the shuttle. I know there was once a discussion at NASA about ejection seats and such, but it's not a practical solution.

"As for reuse: refurbishing the shuttle certainly cost a lot less than building a whole new shuttle every time"

But that would make no sense heh, the shuttle is as complex as it is exactly because it's reusable. A non re-usable vehicle would have been cheaper to build.

"New technologies could easily make refurbishing not only more cost effective and safer, but faster and more complete."

But spacecraft rarely use the latest and greatest technology. Take the computers for example, they are always generations behind because NASA chooses to use tried and tested (and older CPUs are easier to radiation harden). I think bleeding edge hasn't been tried since Apollo.

"Considering how miniscule NASA's budget is, the shuttle itself isn't the issue."

Absolutely agree with you here. It's a joke that the NASA budget is less then .5% of the Federal Budget, and even at it's peak in 1966 I think it only hit 4.5%

"Without the shuttle, there'd be no ISS, no Hubble, and so many other things only the shuttle could ever have done. It's a great design."

Well that's not entirely true. Space Stations had been built before the shuttle (Almaz, Skylab, Saluyt, Mir...) It may have taken longer, or been more difficult but clearly it was possible. Same with Hubble. Hubble is merely the Astronomical version of what otherwise is a spy satellite. There's a persistent rumor that it used the same shipping container as the KH-11 for example (indicating they are roughly the same size and shape). Now the repair missions would not have been possible, this is true. But on the other hand as someone pointed out they were so expensive that we could have in fact launched a new Hubble for the price of these repair missions.

By geddarkstorm on 7/8/2011 4:58:57 PM , Rating: 2
What you say is absolutely true. I did take what you mean as saying there were no abort options, and for many stages of a launch there are, but for some catastrophic points there's little to nothing that can save the vehicle and crew. It is a critical, and long standing flaw.

I'm not so sure the shuttle is as complex as it is because it's reusable. I think the design itself is just that complex, if you want to bring back the entire vehicle from space (and potentially cargo it picks up). If you wanted just a cargo body and then eject with the crew compartment and re-enter the atmosphere with that, letting the body burn up, then it would be significantly less complex and cheaper. But for bringing back the entire ship intact, that's a difficult and complex maneuver no matter how you slice it, and reusability cheapens that, at least I would argue.

True again, space craft are rarely the bleeding edge. But even what is outdated now, and was bleeding edge back then, would change the game. Especially a refresh after 30-40 years. So much has changed, and so much could be changed for better performance, cost, reliability, and especially safety.

Again we fully agree. Some unique aspects of the ISS could not be, but there would still be an ISS if we wanted it without the shuttles. Not as fast or as easily, but always doable. Question is, what will our abilities there look like in the future in how will we choose to replace the shuttle?

RE: I will truly miss the Shuttles
By Jaybus on 7/10/2011 11:33:10 AM , Rating: 2
But that would make no sense heh, the shuttle is as complex as it is exactly because it's reusable. A non re-usable vehicle would have been cheaper to build.

Cheaper to build does not equal cheaper to operate, else airlines would use single flight disposable airplanes.

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