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Video from Atlantis shows the ISS before docking  (Source:

  (Source: National Geographic)
With NASA retiring its Space Shuttle fleet, this was an important moment in NASA history, as it may be awhile before another launch takes place

This year has proved to be an important one for NASA, as it has retired two of the three remaining operational orbiters in its Space Shuttle fleet. Space shuttle Discovery made its final mission in February, and Space shuttle Endeavour completed its last jaunt in June. On July 8, the third and final spacecraft, Space shuttle Atlantis, launched into space one last time before its retirement as well. 

Now, NASA is happy to announce that Atlantis made its final docking at the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday. Two hours after docking, the four-person crew, which consists of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Huley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim, entered the ISS to hug and take pictures with the six-person crew in the ISS. With NASA retiring its Space Shuttle fleet, this was an important moment in NASA history, as it may be awhile before another launch takes place.

While Atlantis arrived safely to the ISS, the trip up until that point wasn't entirely smooth. Before docking, one of the shuttle's computers failed during a morning power-up. According to Atlantis' Lead Flight Director Kwatsi Alibaruho, the on-off switches need to be flipped on a certain way, otherwise they cause a glitch. The computer was taken offline, allowing the remaining two computers, which work simultaneously for the sake of redundancy, to take over. The shuttle also has two spare computers if needed. 

In addition, Atlantis' mission management Team Leader LeRoy Cain noted that a piece of space junk is expected to come close to the ISS and shuttle on Tuesday, but it is not 100 percent confirmed yet. Cain also was unsure of the size of the piece of space junk, but said that Atlantis could "fire its thrusters to move the station out of the way."

Despite these minor troubles, Atlantis has docked and plans to continue doing what the crew went there to do: resupply the ISS. The 12-day mission (which may now be a 13-day mission due to extra time needed for moving cargo), STS-135, is delivering spare parts, clothes, food and experiments via the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module. The supplies are expected to last through the end of 2012.

Today, the crew is using the station's robotic arm to move the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module out of the shuttle's payload bay and connect it to the ISS to retrieve the cargo. A spacewalk is scheduled for Tuesday, but most of the trip will require the moving of cargo and extra help around the ISS.

While many see the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet as the end, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden assures that NASA is only retiring the "launching-to-orbit business," but has big plans for the future.

"I would encourage the American public to listen to the president," said Bolden. "The president has set the goals: an asteroid in 2025, Mars in 2030. I can't get any more definitive than that."

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By gevorg on 7/11/2011 1:52:54 PM , Rating: 2
Time to switch to cheap and reliable rockets like Soyuz, but build our own. For the price of one Shuttle mission, you can launch at least 10 Soyuz rockets. This would save cash strapped NASA while keeping up with Russia.

By TheCastle on 7/11/2011 2:24:04 PM , Rating: 2
Not exactly. A Soyuz carries 3 people and very small amount of cargo. To carry 7 people to orbit it would take 3 Soyuz missions. Assuming that a per seat cost of $60 million, it would take at least $420 million to carry 7 people to orbit (assuming 2 empty seats are "free"). Now there is the matter of that 25,000 lbs of cargo the shuttle can carry. Assuming you could magically chop up big payloads like a greyhound bus sized iss module into little russain progress (cargo supply) pieces. A progress can carry 3000lbs, so you would need ~9 progress missions to carry what one shuttle can. So at $54 million a progress flight your now at 486 million for cargo. So one shuttle flight can do the equivalent of 3 soyuz and 9 progress launches at a cost of at least 900 million. When you start running the actual math, that's why we as a nation decided to build a reusable space craft to build a space station instead of a single use vehicle. Theoretically it was cheaper, but in reality it cost about the same. There is that slight part though of the space shuttle being able to do construction work, no robotic arm on a Soyuz, and you can't do a space walk from a Soyuz with 2 people to do space station construction..... No room for the suits. Not to mention the risk difference between 1 shuttle flight and 13 proton rocket flights for the soyuz+progrss for info on costs of launches...

By gevorg on 7/11/2011 7:45:41 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks for the link!! Note this though:

- The $60mil price per Soyuz is what RSA charges NASA, but obviously their cost is much lower. If NASA will DIY, the costs can easily be in the $10-20 million ballpark, so the total cost would be well under $100 million (i.e. a fraction of one Shuttle mission).

- No one would use 9 Progress rockets to carry 3000lb at a time, when you have Proton-M. ISS is on Low Earth Orbit and Proton-M can put up to 49,000 lb of payload there. This is just as much as Shuttle can do, except that Shuttle can do bigger volume. So 1-3 Proton missions max depending on volume, but obviously not 9.

By JediJeb on 7/12/2011 3:20:06 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with keeping the costs comparable is taking labor costs into account. I doubt you are going to get a US workforce building and servicing rockets for as cheap as you would in Russia. That difference is certainly less now than it was even ten years ago sure, but think of all the money the Russians saved on their research and development over the years compared to what we were paying our engineers. Post a position at NASA for a rocket mechanic at $20k per year and see who applies :)

By delphinus100 on 7/11/2011 8:25:05 PM , Rating: 2
So Google "CCDev"

In this case, the rockets would be Falcon 9, Atlas V and Delta IV heavy. And we already build them...

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