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This Week @ NASA, July 15, 2011
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This Week @NASA...


Mission Control: "Atlantis, Houston, on the big are go for docking."

Chris Ferguson: "Atlantis, on the big look, go for docking."

This docking of orbiter Atlantis to the International Space Station is among the many milestones of STS-135, the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program.

Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim were welcomed by the six Expedition 28 crew members. They’ve delivered to the complex the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module filled with a full year's worth of supplies for the station. With their mission extended from 12 to 13 days, Atlantis’ four crew members are now scheduled to make their first landing attempt at the Kennedy Space Center this Thursday. It’ll mark the end of more than 30 years of countless contributions by the space shuttle, and the beginning of a new era of human space exploration by NASA beyond low-Earth orbit.

After nearly four years of travel through the solar system, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is coming face to face with the giant asteroid Vesta about 117 million miles from Earth. As it’s pulled in by Vesta’s gravity, Dawn becomes the first spacecraft to orbit a main belt asteroid located in the region between Mars and Jupiter. Launched in September of 2007, Dawn will orbit Vesta for one year before heading off to the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will become the first spacecraft to orbit two bodies in our solar system. Asteroids are believed to hold important clues to how our solar system was formed.

Neptune, our most distant major planet, has arrived at the same location in space where it was first discovered 165 years ago. To mark the event, the Wide Field Camera 3 aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken a series of images of the blue-green giant planet. The images reveal high-altitude clouds of methane ice crystals. The methane absorbs red light, causing the planet’s aqua color. The clouds appear pink because they’re reflecting near-infrared light. This video sequence shows Neptune rotating on its tilted axis. A Neptunian day is 16 hours long; Hubble took these pictures every four hours.

Bill Gerstenmaier: "Working internationally, we’re actually getting a much broader spectrum of research than we would if we just had a dedicated U.S. laboratory operating in isolation."

Two experts in the field of space exploration, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier and JAXA Executive Director for Human Space Systems and Utilization Kuniaki Shiraki took part in NASA’S Masters with Masters series. Gerstenmaier and Shiraki shared insights and lessons-learned during a one-hour web-based video discussion sponsored by the Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership.

The Academy’s Director, Ed Hoffman, hosted the program. Masters w/ Master serves as a learning resource for NASA's technical workforce and promotes cohesion between the agency’s project managers and engineers.

And now Centerpieces…

Hundreds of JPL-ers filled von Karman Auditorium to watch history unfold as NASA sent its last Space Shuttle skyward.

NAT: T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7...

Corrine Johnson: "It was exciting. I was just waiting for it to lift off. I was hoping everything would go OK."

NAT: 2, 1, zero and lift-off

NAT JPL audience: Applause

Many of the audience hadn't been born when the first Shuttle launched 30 years ago. But they were here to witness the last.

Corrine Johnson: I was really happy to see it go off, and I'll be tracking it and seeing how their trip on the Space Station works out.

Linda Rodgers: "We have over 350 students at JPL this summer and so many of them came and were in the audience to watch this exciting time. And I just think it's a wonderful part of history to experience."

Ames opened its doors to the public to share the excitement of the launch of the last shuttle mission, STS-135. As crowds watched the high definition video coverage, local NASA experts gave behind-the-scenes commentary on the final preparations.

Mission Control: "2…1…Zero and liftoff!" (Crowd cheering and clapping)

When the orbiter Atlantis lifted off the pad, emotions were close to the surface for many who watched the launch.

Grant Bennett: "I feel just so great that it actually went off without a hitch and that they’re up there, speeding around the Earth, right now."

Kamal Bhatia: He wants to be an astronaut. This fellow wants to be a mechanical engineer, he wants to build shuttles. He wants to experience this, so being here was very important for them, also…to see this.

It was standing room only at the Pearl Young Theater at NASA's Langley Research Center for the final launch of the space shuttle. In the crowd – a number of Langley engineers who helped develop and test the shuttle before it ever flew.

Jim Arrington: "It was exciting."

Jim Arrington helped establish the aerodynamic database that's been crucial for orbiter reentry.

Jim Arrington: "I couldn't believe it's been 30 years since I was here to watch the first launch and now 30 years later I'm here to watch the last launch."

Also on hand dozens of summer interns – none of whom were born when the first shuttle launched. But both generations were equally attentive as the clock counted down.

Launch Announcer: "All three engines up and burning-2-1 –zero and liftoff the final lift-off of Atlantis (clapping) on the shoulders of Atlantis America will continue the dream."

Among those hundreds of thousands of visitors to central Florida for the final space shuttle launch was a face familiar to young and old alike.

Elmo laughing: (ha ha ha ha!)

Mike Massimino: "It’s really a thrill to get to meet you Elmo; we’re very, very excited, Doug and I, and so is everyone here."

Elmo: "Well thank you for inviting Elmo. Elmo thinks that going into outer space is so cool."

Elmo Monster, one of the most popular characters on public television, brought a film crew from Sesame Street to the Kennedy Space Center to talk with NASA experts like Leland Melvin, astronaut and NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education.

Leland Melvin: "And here’s the external tank, the big orange tank, this falls back into the ocean and burns up." Elmo: "Really?"

He also participated in a tweet-up with Astro-Mike, aka, Mike Massimino and Astro-Wheels, the handle for astronaut Doug Wheelock.

Mike Massimino: "Elmo did you touch anything?"

Elmo: "Elmo did not touch nothing." (laughter)

A segment on Elmo’s visit to Kennedy will appear on the Sesame Street website.

Elmo: "Elmo loves all of you and Elmo hopes that NASA stays around forever. It’s so good to see all of you. Bye, bye, everybody."


July 20 marks two important events in NASA history.

35 years ago, on July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 Lander separated from the Orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia (CRY-see pluh-NEE-shuh) to become the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars and perform its mission. Together with Viking 2, which landed a month later, the orbiter imaged the entire surface of the Red Planet, transmitting high resolution photographs of its terrain that characterized the structure and makeup of its atmosphere. Viking 1 also took and analyzed surface samples for composition and signs of life. Much like its successors, the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Viking spacecraft were designed for 90-day missions but produced valuable data for years.

Apollo 11: "Contact light, Engine stop, Tranquility Base here; the Eagle has landed."

And 42 years ago, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step foot on another heavenly body. While Armstrong and Aldrin collected the first lunar soil and rock samples for return to Earth, command module pilot Michael Collins kept vigil in the Columbia module orbiting above. The three reunited and landed safely in the Pacific Ocean four days later.

And that’s This Week @NASA.

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