It sure has been an adventure.
The space shuttle Atlantis soared into the heavens and the history books Friday (July 8), kicking off the last-ever mission of NASA’s storied shuttle program.
Despite a bleak forecast of thunderstorms and clouds, the shuttle beat the weather in a stunning midday launch, sailing into the sky on one final voyage. The countdown toward liftoff took a dramatic pause at T minus 31 seconds while ground crews verified that a vent arm at the top of the shuttle was fully retracted. NASA was quickly able to push on toward liftoff.
Atlantis blasted off just after 11:26 a.m. EDT (1526 GMT) from Launch Pad 39A here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, thrilling huge throngs of spectators who had descended on Florida’s Space Coast to see the swan song of an American icon. NASA estimated that between 750,000 and 1 million people turned out to watch history unfold before their eyes.
“On behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon,” shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts just before launch. “And so for the final time, Fergie, Doug, Sandy and Rex, good luck, Godspeed and have a little fun up there.”
“Thanks to you and your team, Mike. We’re not ending the journey today, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end,” Atlantis’ commander Chris Ferguson replied. “Let’s light this shuttle one more time Mike and witness this nation at its best. The crew of Atlantis is ready to launch.”
After 135 launches over 30 years, the space shuttle will never streak into the sky again.
……The first flight took place on April 12, 1981. Since then, the shuttle — the world’s first and only reusable spacecraft — has become NASA’s workhorse vehicle, with the five-shuttle fleet making 135 flights over three decades.
……two shuttle missions — Challenger’s STS-51L flight in 1986 and Columbia’s STS-107 mission in 2003 — ended in tragedy, killing a total of 14 astronauts.
In spite of the tragic loss of 14 shuttle crew members, the program accomplished some very very important scientific and military-oriented missions and redefined the things we could do in space.
- Space shuttle Atlantis through the years (photos) (news.cnet.com)