Today brings the final Space Shuttle launch of Atlantis for mission STS-135, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida - weather permitting.
Atlantis will, says NASA, carry the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver more than 3.5 tonnes (8,000lb) of supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station.
It will also fly a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft, and return a failed ammonia pump module.
This launch is significant because at the completion of this mission, the shuttle programme will be retired in accordance with the directives President George W. Bush issued within "The Vision for Space Exploration".
The shuttle's successor was to have been Project Constellation with its Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles and Orion Spacecraft. But last year, the Obama administration asked Congress to instead endorse a scaled-back plan heavy reliant on the private sector.
Nov 2010 - Space Shuttle special: One big step
Nov 2010 - Space Shuttle special: Waiting for Discovery
To mark final Space Shuttle launch, Flightglobal has trawled the archive for highlights from the 30-year programme. Here are bullet points and links that point up its landmark events:
Space Shuttle Enterprise
• It was built to perform test flights in the atmosphere.
• Construction of Enterprise began on 4 June 1974, and was completed on 17 September 1976.
• Enterprise was used for flight tests in 1977. Scientists wanted to test how the shuttle could be transported atop a Boeing 747. They also performed three manned test flights with the Shuttle still joined to the Boeing, and another five tests of the Shuttle flying without engines like a glider.
• It never flew in space.
• Its first flight was a taxi test on 15 February 1977. And its last, free flight was completed on 26 October 1977.
Space Shuttle Columbia
• It was the first spacecraft to fly into outer space, conducting its maiden voyage between between 12 and 14 April 1981.
• It embarked on 28 missions into space.
• Its last flight commenced on 16 January 2003 and just over two weeks later, on 1 February, it broke up on re-entry, killing all seven crew members.
Space Shuttle Discovery
• Discovery was the third Space Shuttle deployed by NASA and was to fly more missions than any orbiter. It is named after UK research ship RRS Discovery. It spent 365 days in space.
• Its first flight was between 30 August and 5 September 1984.
• In 1988 the USA used Discovery for its first space mission since the loss of Challenger.
• On 11 October 2000 Disovery was used in the 100th Space Shuttle mission.
• Discovery was used in both research and International Space Station assembly missions. It also carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, and was the only orbiter to take other parts of the telescope to space. Discovery was the first operational shuttle to be retired, followed by Endeavour. It exited service on 9 March 2011.
• It flew 39 successful missions over 27 years of service.
Space Shuttle Challenger
• Challenger was the second Space Shuttle used by NASA to fly into outer space. The shuttle broke up 73 seconds after take-off from Cape Canaveral on 28 January 1986. All seven astronauts onboard were killed. The crash occured because a rubber tube called an o-ring failed to expand to fill a gap in one of the booster rockets, due to cold weather. Read Flight's comment following the crash.
• The first mission for the Challenger was on 4 April 1983.
• Challenger's longest flight spanned eight days, five hours, 23 minutes and 33 seconds, and was also the first mission to carry two women. It commenced on 30 October 1985.
• NASA's first Shuttle launch at night involved the Challenger and was successful.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
• Is the last active Space Shuttle orbiter.
• Its first flight took place between 3 and 7 October 1985.
• Atlantis's second mission was a busy one...
• In May 2009 Atlantis flew a seven-member crew to the Hubble Space Telescope for a servicing mission.
Space Shuttle Endeavour
• Its first flight was between 7 and 16 May 1992.
• Its last mission was in May 2011.
• In 1998 the Endeavour was assigned to its first mission to the International Space Station and in November in orbit assembly of the International Space Station would begin.
- Space Shuttle dedicated page
- NASA puts chances of favourable launch weather at 30%
- Apollo 40th anniversary
This blog post was researched and the links collated by two work experience students from local schools. Thanks to Aaron Bossey and Chris Kerrigan