Friday, July 08, 2011
Space shuttle Atlantis launched this morning to begin a twelve day mission to resupply the International Space Station.
Nearly 900,000 spectators around the Kennedy Space Center and along the Space Coast witnessed the final launch of a space shuttle today.
NASA's final shuttle countdown was not without a few minutes of drama in the final seconds.
Lift-off occurred two minutes late and with only 58 seconds left in the launch window, due to the need for controllers to inspect that the gaseous vent arm, which retracts away from the top of the huge rust-colored fuel tank, was indeed fully retracted.
Atlantis' solid rocket boosters ignited at 11:29 a.m. EDT, and launching for the last Americans from American soil for several years.
In earth orbit 240 miles above, the crew of the space station watched the lift-off live on a computer laptop attached the wall.
Nine minutes after launch, Atlantis arrived in earth orbit at an altitude of 140 x 36 miles. An engine firing thirty-six minutes later of her twin OMS engines raised the shuttle orbit to 143 x 98 miles.
Atlantis will continue to increase her altitude over the next two days as her crew nears the station.
Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson leads this final shuttle crew. Pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus round out the all veteran crew.
Walheim thanked Pratt-Whitney and the space shuttle main engine team for the group's work on the three powerful engines which helped get the shuttle to space.
Atlantis is carrying a bus size cargo module known as Raffaello loaded with tons of fresh supplies for the space station, and a storage rack which includes spare parts and hardware.
The 21-foot long Raffaello module will be plucked from the aft section of Atlantis payload bay at 5:36 a.m. on Monday, and docked to the station's Node 2.
A pair of apple iPhone 4's will travel aboard Atlantis for a series of tests by the station's crew for improving future technologies with the popular phone.
Each iPhone 4 model will have a special application loaded to test the calibration of the smart phone in space, and uses for it's camera as the crew aims it toward the earth in a series of photography tests.
The twin iPhones will be housed inside a NanoRacks cube carrier when shuttle Atlantis lifts-off on July 8 from the Kennedy Space Center.
Experimental tests also include how solar radiation effects the smart phone's memory, and test how it may aide in navigation by photographing a series of locations on earth.
The duel phones are intended for tests by NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and several of the six space station crew members following Atlantis' departure on July 18.
A one day mission extension is likely and will be added a few days after the shuttle docks.
Atlantis is due to separate from the space station for the final time at 1:59 a.m. on July 18.
Pilot Hurley will fly Atlantis out to a distance of 400-feet and then begin a 360-degree fly around of the complex, while Magnus and Walheim use digital cameras to photograph the space station in detail.
The final two days of Atlantis' flight will focus on stowing equipment and to share with the world one final end-of-shuttle ceremony.
Atlantis crew will discuss on NASA TV the history of what shuttle has done for not just America but the entire planet, and take a look into the future of human space flight.
Landing is planned back at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility Runway 15/33 on July 20 at 7:06 a.m.