For the last time ever, the space shuttle parted ways from the International Space Station this morning, preparing to come back to Earth for good.
Atlantis slipped away at 2:28 a.m. EDT Tuesday, flying a half-loop over the station so the crews could take pictures of their respective spacecraft. The ISS rotated 90 degrees so the shuttle astronauts could snap a picture of its long axis, a view the shuttle can't normally see. The pictures will document the product of the space shuttle fleet's three decades of service, NASA said.
"Farewell, ISS, make us proud," said commander Chris Ferguson.
Shortly after the loop maneuvers, the crew fired Atlantis' engines to move the spacecraft farther apart.
The station will now be served by Russian Soyuz spacecraft and by private companies. Incidentally, on Monday one such company, SpaceX, broke ground on a launch complex for its Falcon Heavy rocket, which will be the most powerful lift vehicle since the Saturn V.
Throughout the station's life, shuttles have made 37 visits, in which 10 modules, four sets of solar arrays, 354 feet of truss and countless science experiments were put together, NASA said. On this final trip, Atlantis brought enough supplies to last at least another year. (Click here to read our full coverage of STS-135.)
Among the items Atlantis left behind is an American flag that flew on STS-1, the first shuttle mission, back in 1981. It will remain on the space station, NASA said, until an American astronaut riding on an American spacecraft comes to bring it home.
As a teenager, I did a tour of McDonald Douglas Aircraft. They had a wooden mockup of the astronauts working cabin area. I got to walk around it. It was an awesome memory. I hate to see the Space Shuttle go; it has made wonderful strides forward in technology. I congratulate all the NASA Engineers and all the other 3rd party engineers\companies that help develop and support the Space Shuttle program. Its an awesome space\plane! I like to see our Engineers now focus on making cheep energy for the USA people and be self supporting and get off buy oil, coal or other energy from other countries. The freedom of our country comes from our ability to be independent. We can solve our government budget problem as we strive to be more energy independent. This would be a engineering achievement all the working people of our country that can actually feel by creating more jobs too, cheaper energy and a cleaner environment. Now is the time for all our engineers to help solve our current budget problems and energy problems. Obviously our current leaders are inept to this; we need a more practical, scientific, realistic point of view, that does not involve politics.
What is your opinion for the future of NASA and its focus should be?
@BubbaGump: I, too, rode a wooden shuttle into space (that was back when NASA had the budget to keep air in space). It was awesome, but it burnt up on reentry, so I made my 2nd shuttle out of diamonds.
what a terrible decision. I believe the funding will be there in the future for shuttle missions.
who's to blame? obamination or the people?
@rettah_dam, I did not ride in a wooden space shuttle thank you. But it is interesting to note you said you did and seem to survive the re-entry burn up. I hope those burns healed ok, god bless. Oh, how is your medication going; maybe you skipped a pill today, hmm?
I watched the first shuttle launch on TV when I was in elementary school, and now I get to see the end of the program. Honestly, it lasted much longer then I expected, but the sad part is that there is no replacement program. For the first time since 1958, the USA is out of the business of manned space flight. Considering the amazing technologies and benefits that have come to our society directly from the manned space program, I think that cancelling it is a huge mistake that will have tragic consequences for our country. Thank your local congressman.
I remember watching the Challenger blow up as a child, and thinking "By the time I'm old enough to be an astronaut they won't need those pesky boosters to get the shuttle into space." Boy was I wrong.
I recall that day as well Aldron, Sitting in the gym with the rest of the school watching on a tiny tv... Crazy day.
For those that for one reason or another think that NASA is done, please read up a little. The ONLY thing that NASA is done with is MANNED missions, there are plenty of unmanned missions going on.
Manned missions will be back to it's regularly scheduled programming after this short commerical break.
Playing Devil's Advocate since 1978
"The only constant in the universe is change"
-Heraclitus of Ephesus 535 BC - 475 BC
I agree for the most part CodeZero....although I'm not crazy about unmanned missions; there is much to be learnt and if it’s cheaper then so be it.
The end of the article gives me a little hope.
"Among the items Atlantis left behind is an American flag that flew on STS-1, the first shuttle mission, back in 1981. It will remain on the space station, NASA said, until an American astronaut riding on an American spacecraft comes to bring it home."
Can't wait for the next generation Shuttle.
US manned space fight is not over as the ignorant posters keep crying about, there has always been time between launches, this break will just be a bit longer (the only continually manned flights have been aboard space stations), with the collaboration between NASA and private industry our manned program will come back better than ever, i watched the first moon landings as a child and obviously things change, some for better some for worse, this is for the better, now that the ISS is finished the shuttle is no longer needed and besides it is a budget buster for NASA, a smaller space plane with modern tech may be done but until then the space capsules from SpaceX and Lockheed Martin will be flying before you know it and the cooperation with Russia is a good thing (international cooperation in space is the future [or would wars in space be better?] and the only affordable one), i loved the shuttles as much as anyone but like everything else their time is up, remember all the lost astronauts that sacrificed everything to get us this far, their sacrifice was not in vain, we will be back
I say good riddance. NASA has been using the space shuttle as a crutch for far too long. Maybe now they will actually invest some time, effort, and money into developing something new for manned space flight.
I have to say its very disconcerting not to have lived in the era that ignited a nation (or world for that matter) but to watch it end in a cloud of politics. Unmanned missions have serious potential to "go where no man has gone before" but i think what we are missing is the human factor of experience in space. Privitization would surge money into the industry...but, space wasnt my next vacation destination, it was my childhood fantasy. I'll still be on the first flight to sub orbital space (if and when).
I guess my selfish nature wants me to keep space as a scientific frontier, not a commercialized kill joy.
WELCOME TO: SPACE™ (Hahaha)
Farwell shuttle program! You'll be missed!
"Faith: not wanting to know what is true."
For those of us old enough to remember the oil crisis of the 70s also remember the thoughts behind a replacement for the expendable, non-recyclable spacecraft we were using. The Shuttle was designed with recycling in mind. All except the main fuel tank come back to Earth after use and are used again. Maybe it was not the best design though given the circumstances it did a great job. Sure it was expensive. After 135 missions how expensive would it have been to have nothing reusable?
We are at an edge of a cliff in our own USA budge problems. We are at an edge of a cliff on earth environment impact and destruction to environment and ourselves. I feel with the media we all informed and as I say this, it obvious. Our country has within itself the wonderful extreme engineering ability to grow through this challenge. But we as USA citizens need to see or know of a goal or horizon. I enjoy the splendor of NASA engineering accomplishments, but I am just overwhelmed by our countries dept, the gulf dead zone expanding and dyeing and all the world fisheries dying, the ocean reefs are dying and supporting fish, the upper and lower species of this earth dying and currently no solution, the viruses of this world growing beyond our own technology, antibiotics and more, we need to focus on ourselves and realize what kind of person we are inside if the world around us or ourselves should die. We should commit our last dying effort to being unselfish, caring and loving. We should protect others and our environment. We should now just focus on developing clean energy technologies without destroying the environment, create jobs and medical benefits and realize to all we will eventually die and must just live our lives being decent, caring and kind to each other.
We are at an edge of a cliff in our own USA budget problems. So spell check did not save me, lol.
For all the people who really want to attacke me on my occasional opions, distractions of comments and sometimes ideas of religions, I really really care about people and our future, just so you know.
I'll rest easy when that thing is down. Yea it was pretty neat, but never worth the trade-offs made. That design failed mainly because of the cross range the USAF wanted but never really got. Which was never required for post-Challenger missions anyway. Just pointless.
Max Faget's original concept should have been used. Even if the current orbiter placement was adopted a smaller orbiter would never have needed that carbon-carbon panels. Those composites have almost no strength perpendicular to its plane. Metal skin would probably have gotten the Columbia home.
It would have been a smaller orbiter for sure, but a much cheaper one. To operate and to develop/improve. A "shuttle C" variant could have easily been funded. Even if that STS had only been 1/4 the size of this one, the cargo version would have launched more cargo than anything short of Saturn.
If Bolden had any sense he would follow the lead of SpaceX and perfect the launch technologies of thirty years ago. Instead NASA will be buying rides from them until NASA fades away.
@MrJohnA and other ignorant pessimists...NASA is not going anywhere, get real...without NASA SpaceX would not exist, NASA is just allowing private companies to take over low earth orbit missions the shuttles once did and possibly the Moon and Mars, if you think SpaceX is going out of earth orbit without lots of NASA help you are dreaming, Orion is the next NASA deap space vehicle...NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers shipped out the first Orion crew module spacecraft structure on Monday, Feb. 10, from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La.; contrary to popular belief human spaceflight is alive and well at NASA, patience is a virtue, go find some
almost forgot, SpaceX leading NASA? it is the other way around, stop making things up
i just read this from cnn today about NASA "...Once Atlantis lands, 2,300 shuttle workers are expected to be laid off later this week. In August, another 1,000 will get their pink slips. About 8,000 shuttle workers, in total, who live in the area of the Kennedy Space Center will be unemployed due to the end of the shuttle program...."
that is a down side to shutting down the shuttle program, hopefully with their skills they will be needed in the private sector space programs, the amount of people it took to run the shuttles was part of the problem
@drchuck1...I hope you are right. As for my 'ignorant pessimism' exactly what will keep constellation from going the way of Venture-star, Shuttle II, etc, etc ad nauseum? All of those died in far better economies than this one.
Manned programs are just too expensive to keep the politicians out. Choices foisted on a program thereafter only make things worse. USAF money would make STS unsinkable..? All that did was make it +4x (+$$$)heavier and eliminate any chance of single segment SRBs.
You do understand where that led, right? The SRBs are obvious but a smaller stack would have left less distance between the source of falling foam and its impact point. Less time and distance for it to decelerate, and so less difference in speed. AKA lower kinetic impact. Thats leaving aside issues of composite failure modes.
Hindsight is 20/20. Mr Faget didn't see much of this coming either. And his first design had serious issues. The ET and SRB combination was a heck of a lot easier than a fly-back booster. Had that combination played out the high flight rates promised could have happened. Even gotten cheap enough to keep 20,000 shuttle workers busy. Many even off-planet by now. Its sad.
Constellation would undoubtedly improve crew safety and mission flexibility. But it will never be cheaper than STS though. Thats the best case for simply looking back. Certainly not after the politicians and bureaucrats 'save' any money.
SpaceX did take the lead. They chose a rational path that doesn't rely on bleeding-edge tech working perfectly every time from the first. That would be insane. As a private company they can do what they want -no politicians complicating the prestigious program. Just solid, clever incremental improvement. Not that I'm all anti-gov and pro-biz, its just necessary here.
The unmanned (*cheaper*) programs have consistently kicked butt, yet mostly avoid the political death-spiral afflicting the pricier, more showy manned programs.
spacex can't do what ever they want, they are having to meet very tuff standards NASA has set which NASA has oversight of, i don't disagree with most of what you state but you are mis-informed on some, like your spacex comment, the orion spacecraft will be much less expensive than the shuttle and actually leave Earth orbit and spacex may as well