Friday, November 27, 2009
The space shuttle Atlantis left earth orbit and dropped through cold blue Florida skies this morning following an eleven day resupply flight to the International Space Station.
In one of the best weather days along America's Space Coast for a shuttle landing, Atlantis was given the "Go" for her return at 8:14 am EST based on light winds and no cloud cover in the region.
Commander Charles Hobaugh and pilot Barry E. Wilmore donned their entry suits and took their seats two hours before landing to maneuver the spacecraft to a precise window for leaving orbit for their trip home. The seven member crew also includes Randy Bresnik, Leland Melvin, Michael Foreman, Robert Satcher and Nicole Stott.
Atlantis' twin engines began firing for about 3 minutes at 8:37 am to slow the orbiter down by 211 mph, and begin her free fall descent to the Kennedy Space Center.
"You couldn't have picked a clearer day", Hobaugh radioed to Houston's Mission Control as he observed the runway in sight (above).
Flying without power at a speed of 224 mph, Atlantis' main gear slammed onto runway 33 here at America's Spaceport at 9:44:23 am EST, concluding a successful resupply mission to earth's orbital outpost in space. Her wheels came to a stop 42 seconds later.
The STS-129 mission elapsed time at wheels stop was set at T+10 days, 19 hours, 16 minutes and 55 seconds -- one of the shortest shuttle flight's in recent history.
Atlantis' 31st flight covered 4,490,138 miles since her November 16 launch.
For crew member Stott, she returns home following 91 days in space -- 86 spent living aboard the space station as a flight engineer of Expedition 21.
For mission specialist Bresnik, this flight mark several joyous marks -- both in space and back home near Houston. Bresnik made a couple of spacewalks earlier this week, and at the same time, his wife gave birth last Saturday night to a daughter. He received word of the birth announcement following one of his spacewalks.
Atlantis spent seven days docked to the station as her crew resupplied both the inside with fresh food, experiments and supplies; and performed three spacewalks to install new equipment and spare parts on the outside of the outpost.
NASA's 129th space shuttle flight marked the 31st flight to the space station.
Today's landing now means that there is only one flight left for NASA's fourth space shuttle orbiter. Atlantis final mission into space is set for this May on a resupply flight to the station. Atlantis first flew twenty-four years ago on a military DoD flight, STS-51-J.
There are also only five more space shuttle flights left. The next mission is currently planned for February 4th on a flight to deliver the Tranquility module to the station.