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
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."