Image right: Space shuttle Atlantis touches down on Runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:57 a.m. Thursday July 21 to conclude the final mission in NASA's Space Shuttle Program. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Space shuttle Atlantis' landing at the Kennedy Space Center early Thursday morning July 21 brought NASA's three decades of space shuttle missions to an end.
The landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the completion of the 13-day STS-135 mission to supply the International Space Station for the post-shuttle era. Atlantis touched down on its first landing opportunity at Kennedy at about at 5:57 a.m. EDT (2:57 a.m. PDT).
Atlantis and its four-member crew – commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim - launched on the final space shuttle mission July 8. Atlantis carried almost 10,000 pounds of supplies, logistics and spare parts in the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to the station. The 13-day mission also tested a system to investigate the potential for remote-controlled robotic refueling of satellites and spacecraft in orbit, and deployed a small self-maneuvering PicoSat satellite on its final day in orbit. STS-135 was the 37th shuttle mission to the station.
Atlantis spent eight days, 15 hours and 21 minutes attached to the orbiting space laboratory during its final mission. It spent 307 days in space and traveled nearly 126 million miles during its 33 flights. Atlantis launched on its first mission on Oct. 3, 1985. Once Atlantis is decommissioned, it will be placed on permanent public display at the Kennedy Space Center visitor center.
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Atlantis Prepares to Wrap Up Final Shuttle Mission
Image right: Last View - This image of the International Space Station was taken by Atlantis' STS-135 crew during a fly around as the shuttle departed the station on Tuesday, July 19, 2011. STS-135 is the final shuttle mission to the orbital laboratory. (NASA photo)
The final flight of NASA's more than three-decade-long space shuttle program is scheduled to end early Thursday morning July 21, when shuttle Atlantis and its crew return to Earth. The landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida marks the completion of the 13-day STS-135 mission to supply the International Space Station for the post-shuttle era. The first landing opportunity is at 5:57 a.m. EDT (2:57 a.m. PDT), with a second opportunity at 7:32 a.m. EDT (4:32 a.m. PDT).
Weather conditions at Kennedy are expected to be good for landing. The backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California is NOT being called up for landing support on Thursday. If weather in eastern Florida precludes a Thursday landing in Florida, additional opportunities are available on Friday at Kennedy and at the backup landing site at Edwards.
(Edwards Air Force Base is a restricted-access military facility and will NOT be open to the public for viewing of a potential space shuttle landing, should Atlantis be diverted here.)
Mission managers have cleared Atlantis' heat shield for entry after reviewing results of the "late inspection" survey of the shuttle's reinforced carbon-carbon thermal insulation on the leading edges of its wings and nose cap.
Atlantis' crew wrapped up final preparations for its planned landing Wednesday morning, including practicing landings on the laptop application, checkout of the flight control system and the reaction control system thrusters. All checked out well. Earlier, they deployed the PicoSat, a little satellite that can maneuver itself and has a digital camera that took pictures of Atlantis when it was deployed.
Atlantis spent eight days, 15 hours and 21 minutes attached to the orbiting space laboratory.
If Atlantis lands at Kennedy as scheduled Thursday, it will have spent 307 days in space and traveled nearly 126 million miles during its 33 flights. Atlantis launched on its first mission on Oct. 3, 1985.
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Atlantis Undocks from ISS; Completes TPS Check
Image right: Cupola's View of Earth - STS-135 mission specialist Sandy Magnus was captured enjoying the panoramic view of Earth from the multi-windowed cupola on the International Space Station's Tranquility module during some off time on July 16. Magnus is one of four astronauts who crewed space shuttle Atlantis on the final space shuttle mission. (NASA photo)
Using its 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System, astronauts aboard space shuttle Atlantis completed final inspection of the shuttle's thermal protection system Tuesday in preparation for a planned landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Thursday morning, July 21. The boom's sensors scanned the areas of highest heating during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere – the nose camp and leading edges of the wings - and the data recorded will be reviewed by shuttle engineers to validate Atlantis' heat shield's integrity.
Overnight, Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station while the spacecraft were 243 miles above the Pacific, east of Christchurch, New Zealand. Atlantis spent eight days, 15 hours and 21 minutes attached to the orbiting laboratory.
Pilot Doug Hurley then moved Atlantis to a distance of 600 feet in front of the complex, where he halted the shuttle for 27 minutes while the space station yawed 90 degrees to present its longitudinal axis to Atlantis. That allowed mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus to take photos of the station from angles the shuttle never has seen before during a fly-around. About an hour later, Atlantis fired its jets, separating it from the International Space Station for the last time.
Atlantis' crew is now focused on preparing for landing at Kennedy Space Center early Thursday morning, with touchdown slated for 5:56 a.m. EDT. Weather conditions at Kennedy are expected to be acceptable for landing. The backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California is NOT being called up for landing support on Thursday, although it could be called up on Friday if weather in eastern Florida precludes a Thursday landing in Florida.
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Atlantis Prepares to Undock from Space Station
Image right: Crew Portrait - The International Space Station's Expedition 28 crew and the STS-135 Atlantis astronauts posed for a portrait aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory during the final space shuttle mission. From left, front, Expedition 28 crewmember Mike Fossum, STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson, Expedition 28 crewmembers Andrey Borisenko and Ron Garan. Middle, STS-135 mission specialist Sandy Magnus, Expedition 28's Alexander Samokutyaev. Rear, STS-135 Pilot Doug Hurley, mission specialist Rex Walheim, Expedition 28 crewmembers Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa. (NASA photo)
With their work almost done, the crew of space shuttle Atlantis is preparing to undock from the International Space Station early Tuesday morning as the final space shuttle mission nears its conclusion.
During the weekend, the combined shuttle and station crews finished transferring more than 9,400 pounds of supplies and equipment from the Rafaello logistics module to help support station operations over the next year, and then loaded about 5,700 pounds of trash, unneeded equipment and experiments back into the module for return to Earth. Using the Canadarm robotic arm, the module was then moved from the station's Harmony node back into Atlantis' cargo bay early Monday morning.
Following a poignant farewell ceremony between the crews, hatches between the station and Atlantis were closed for the final time a few hour later.
Landing is currently targeted for 5:58 a.m. EDT (2:58 a.m. PDT) Thursday morning, July 21, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Should weather or other issues preclude a landing at Kennedy on the target date and time, additional landing opportunities exist at Kennedy and at the backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California from Thursday through Saturday, July 23.
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Image right: An Amazing View - This panoramic view was photographed from the International Space Station toward Earth on July 14, looking past space shuttle Atlantis' docked cargo bay and part of the station, including a solar array panel. The photo was taken as the joint complex passed over the southern hemisphere. The Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights can be seen on Earth's horizon and a number of stars also are visible. (NASA photo)
President Barack Obama called the combined crews of Atlantis and Expedition 28 Friday afternoon. The President saluted the final shuttle mission, and noted that it also "ushers in an exciting new era to push the frontiers of space exploration and human spaceflight."
In his comments to the astronauts, the President said "The space program has always embodied our sense of adventure and exploration and courage as you guys work in a really harsh environment. And I know that there have been thousands who have poured their hearts and souls into America's Space Shuttle Program over the last three decades, they're following this journey with special interest. And to them and all the men and women of NASA, I want to say "thank you," – you helped our country lead the space age and you continue to inspire us."
Meanwhile, the two crews are continuing with transfer of supplies and equipment from the Rafaello logics module to the station to support station operations over the next year. They were expected to have completed transferring about 70 percent of the 9,400 pounds of items brought up by Atlantis to the station by Saturday. After that, the crews will transfer about 5,700 pounds of unneeded equipment and trash from the station along with a failed pump back to the logistics module, for Atlantis to bring back to Earth.
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Image right: The Shuttle Era's Final Spacewalk - Spacewalker Mike Fossum rides on the International Space Station's robotic arm as he carries the Robotic Refueling Mission experiment. This the final scheduled spacewalk during a shuttle mission. (NASA photo)
The combined 10-member crew of space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station spent much of Wednesday transferring equipment and supplies from the Raffaello multi-purpose module to the space station. The work to unload the more than 9,400 pounds of supplies and equipment brought up by Raffaello and then repack it with 5,700 pounds of equipment, supplies and trash to return home will continue for much of Atlantis stay at the station.
Space station Expedition 28 Flight Engineers Mike Fossum and Ron Garan completed a six-hour, 31-minute spacewalk Tuesday, retrieving a failed pump module for return to Earth, installing two experiments and repairing a new base for the station's robotic arm.th.
Following Tuesday's spacewalk, STS-135 mission management advised the crew of Atlantis that the orbiter's reinforced carbon carbon and thermal protection system tiles and blankets are in good shape and Atlantis has been cleared for re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere next week.
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Image right: The docking mechanism in space shuttle Atlantis' payload bay was photographed from inside the crew cabin on the third day of the STS-135 shuttle mission July 10, shortly before the shuttle docked with the International Space Station. The orbiter boom sensor system and a portion of the remote manipulator system's robot arm are visible. (NASA photo)
With the assistance of space shuttle Atlantis' STS-135 mission crew, International Space Station crewmembers Ron Garan and Mike Fossum completed a complicated and carefully choreographed series of tasks Tuesday during a 6.5-hour extra-vehicular activity, or spacewalk.
Garbed in their bulky space suits, Garan and Fossum completed installing the Robotic Refueling Mission experiment onto a platform on the Dextre Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. The experiment is intended to demonstrate robotic refueling technology and techniques that could allow for refueling of satellites in orbit, using commands sent from controllers on Earth.
The pair had earlier moved a failed pump module from a temporary storage site on the outside of the space station to the cargo bay of space shuttle Atlantis, which will return the module to Earth. The pump module failed last year, disabling half of the station's cooling system, and NASA engineers want to diagnose what caused the failure so they can take steps to mitigate future pump module failures.
During their remaining hours outside the space station, Garan and Fossum deployed the Optical Reflector Materials Experiment, part of the Materials International Space Station Experiment 8 that was installed during the prior STS-134 mission, fixed a grounding wire protruding from a Zarya module payload data grapple fixture and installed a protective sun cover on pressurized mating adapter 3.
Atlantis mission specialist Rex Walheim choreographed the activities and coordinated communications between the spacewalkers and mission control, while shuttle pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialist Sandy Magnus operated the station's 58-foot long robotic arm to maneuver the spacewalkers around during their work outside the space station.
Tuesday's spacewalk was the only one scheduled during STS-135, the final space shuttle mission. It was the 249th spacewalk by U.S. astronauts, the seventh for Fossum and the fourth for Garan. It was the 160th spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance.
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STS-135 Astronauts Install MPLM on Space Station
Image right: Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A Friday morning July 8 on the STS-135 mission, the final flight of the Shuttle Program. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Using the robotic Canadarm2, Atlantis' crew installed the Raffaello logistics module Monday morning on the space station's Harmony node. Over the next several days, Atlantis' and space station crewmembers will be transferring almost 10,000 pounds of supplies and equipment from the logistics module to the station to sustain station operations for up to a year, while transferring more than 5,600 pounds of discarded station gear into Raffaello for return to Earth.
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