Atlantis heads toward International Space Station

May 15, 2010 by Jean-Louis Santini
Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off of launch pad 39-a at Kennedy Space Center for its final scheduled launch in Cape Canaveral. The space vessel has speeded toward the International Space Station Saturday after a successful lift-off on the final mission for the 25-year-old spacecraft.

US shuttle Atlantis speeded toward the International Space Station Saturday after a successful lift-off on the final mission for the 25-year-old spacecraft.

The shuttle blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida into a clear blue sky on Friday afternoon.

Several minutes after the launch, Atlantis's twin white solid rocket boosters were separated and dropped into the Atlantic Ocean.

The shuttle's three engines propelled the vehicle on its eight-and-a-half-minute climb to orbit, assisted by the two orbital maneuvering system engines.

"Launch was just phenomenal," said associate NASA administrator Bill Gerstenmaier during a postlaunch news conference.

The 32nd and final voyage for Atlantis, first launched in 1985, will take the astronauts to the orbiting research facility, delivering an integrated cargo carrier and a Russian-built mini research module.

Before it gets there, the shuttle may have to dodge a piece of that NASA is tracking, Gerstenmaier said.

"I think the maneuver will be on Sunday if we determine we need to do it," he said.

Just before liftoff, launch director Mike Leinbach wished the Atlantis crew "good luck and goodspeed," encouraging them to "have a little fun up there."

Based on current plans, the Atlantis launch is one of the last three missions of NASA's , which is due to be mothballed at the end of the year.

After this mission, only two more shuttle launches remain, one in September for Discovery and the final blast off for Endeavour in November.

Early Friday the shuttle's external tank was filled with over 500,000 gallons (two million liters) of liquid oxygen and in an operation lasting some two hours, NASA said.

In a poignant moment for NASA as the US space agency counts down towards the end of an era in human spaceflight, Atlantis will be retired upon its safe return home after a quarter-century career.

During a 12-day mission largely spent moored to the ISS, Atlantis and the crew will deliver over 12 tonnes of equipment, as astronauts seek to complete the 100-billion-dollar orbiting outpost.

"Twelve days, three (spacewalks), tons of robotics.... We're putting on spares that make us feel good about the long-term sustainability of the ISS, replacing batteries that have been up there for a while, and docking a Russian-built ISS module," said space shuttle program manager John Shannon.

"This flight has a little bit of everything, and it's been a great preparation for the team."

President Barack Obama effectively abandoned in February plans by his predecessor George W. Bush to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020 and perhaps on to Mars.

Constrained by soaring deficits, Obama submitted a budget to Congress that encouraged NASA to focus instead on developing commercial transport alternatives to ferry astronauts to the ISS after the shuttle program ends.

Nonetheless, Obama set a bold new course in April for the future of US space travel, laying out a vision to send American astronauts into Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.

Explore further: Scars on Mars from 2012 rover landing fade—usually

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA postpones last shuttle mission to November

Apr 27, 2010

NASA has pushed to November the launch of one of its three remaining shuttle missions to modify an experiment module to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS).

Shuttle 'Go' for Dec. 6 Launch

Dec 04, 2007

Space shuttle Atlantis is set to begin its launch countdown for the STS-122 mission with a flurry of activities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis is scheduled to launch at 4:31 p.m. EST on ...

Space shuttle Atlantis soars on final voyage

May 14, 2010

(AP) -- Space shuttle Atlantis thundered away on its final voyage to orbit Friday, hoisting an experienced crew of six and a full shipment of space station gear.

Recommended for you

Europe resumes Galileo satnav deployment (Update)

Mar 27, 2015

Europe resumed deployment of its beleaguered Galileo satnav programme on Friday, launching a pair of satellites seven months after a rocket malfunction sent two multi-million euro orbiters awry.

More evidence for groundwater on Mars

Mar 27, 2015

Monica Pondrelli and colleagues investigated the Equatorial Layered Deposits (ELDs) of Arabia Terra in Firsoff crater area, Mars, to understand their formation and potential habitability. On the plateau, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (1) May 15, 2010
This is a sad reminder of the end of the first exciting part of the space age.

Oliver K. Manuel

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.