Atlantis to fly November 16

By Phil Plait | November 5, 2009 7:30 am

NASA logoSTS 129, the 31st mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, is scheduled to launch at 14:28 Eastern time on November 16, 2009. Like all remaining flights, this will be to the space station. The primary goal is to install a couple of platforms on ISS on which they can store spare hardware for use after the shuttles retire.

The launch date depends on an Atlas V launch from a nearby air force base on the 14th, so stay tuned to NASA to see if there are any last-minute changes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA
MORE ABOUT: Atlantis, ISS

Comments (19)

  1. It’s hard for me to think of the shuttle without feeling as though NASA has been caught like a bug in amber. Why are we still flying 40 year old technology into space when on the ground we watch the launch on cell phone technology that changes every other year?

    I realize the comparison is somewhat unfair; but it isn’t ridiculously unfair.

  2. MrQhuest

    I’ve heard from a few places, including Skeptics Guide to the Universe, that NASA was going to install a couple of VASIMR Ion engines on the ISS to maintain altitude. However, I have not been able to confirm that on any NASA site. Anyone have any more information?

    MrQ

  3. MrQhuest

    RE: Cell phones. I was just thinking about this a few days ago. Cell phones are cheap, easy to make and yeild huge profits, both to vendors, and carriers. Spaceflight is expensive, hard, and does not yeild much obvious profit. Harder to get people to invest I imagine.
    MrQ

  4. Peter Laws

    Simple – they went back to the stuck-in-amber logo from 1950-mumble. Had they stuck with the worm, we’d surely be on Mars by now. :-)

  5. I’m waiting for this one and I hope it would be launched successfully. Can’t be it hit by space debris that is orbiting earth and waiting someone to smash with. I don’t think so, you plait? Here is what I’ve concluded.
    http://bruceleeeowe.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/space-junk-threat-to-future-launches/

  6. I know… Let’s get the general public in an uproar that NASA’s lack of funding leaves us unprotected from 21-Dec-2012.

  7. Russ

    I sincerely hope that it launches on the 16th. I have made a considerable effort to make the trek to Florida to see this launch with my 4 year old son. It will be our first and last opportunity to see a shuttle launch.

    We planned our vacation for the original launch on the 12’Th, and it cost me a lot of money to move to the 16’Th. This whole family trip is costing a fortune, but seeing the shuttle go up will make it all worthwhile.

    Let’s light the Atlas V candle, so let a little, (and big), boy see the shuttle one last time.

  8. Neal

    Wait, there’s an Atlas V launch coming up? More info, please!

  9. StevoR

    @ 6 Russ – Best wishes & good luck for whatever that’s worth! Hope it works out.

    Will this be the last flight for the Atlantis or does it have one or two more scheduled launches?

    I’ll miss the shuttles when they go – they may be old but they are still awesome machines. I’d rather they kept them flying and had as little gap as possible ..

    Oh & BA still no post here on the successful test launch of the Ares NASA’s first new rocket in 30 years? Tut, tut, I’m dispapointed by you. ;-)

    (I’ll forgive you tho’ – I love your blog, just wish you’d posted on it earlier in a separate launch post.)

    @ 1 Sully : While its true that the shuttle has never quite lived up to expectations, I do think we need to remember all the marvellous things NASA has achieved – its still light years (well Earth orbits at least) ahead of its compeditors both private & government. Never forget more people have flown into space aboard the shuttles than any other means – and its given us the Hubble Space observatory among so much more. Its flown hundreds of successful missions and done so many pretty amazing things so, yes, I’m inclined to say its better for us to be grateful for what we have got from it rather than knock it &/or NASA for its occasional failures.

    OH & BTW I’ve got no connection with NASA whatsoever but for my admiration & respect for them. :-)

  10. 1. Sully Says:
    November 5th, 2009 at 7:42 am
    It’s hard for me to think of the shuttle without feeling as though NASA has been caught like a bug in amber. Why are we still flying 40 year old technology into space when on the ground we watch the launch on cell phone technology that changes every other year?

    _____________

    We’re not flying 40 year old technology into space. The Atlantis that will launch no earlier than November 16 has undergone a number of upgrades since her maiden voyage in 1985. It’s using redesigned SSMEs, a flat-panel display cockpit, new communications systems, new navigation system, new drag chute, new docking mechanism and airlock, new insulation blankets, new plumbing lines, and an upgraded robotic arm. Not to mention the fact that it built a friggin space station.

    Yes, the shell of the vehicle is 30 years old, and the basic design of the space shuttle is the same as it was in the 70s, but it’s a bit inaccurate to say that the technology has been stagnant for 30 years. The shuttle program has been the platform for the development of a lot of new technology and techniques that will be crucial to Constellation and future manned spaceflight endeavors.

  11. Charles Boyer

    @MrQhuest “Spaceflight is expensive, hard, and does not yield much obvious profit. ”

    Key word here is “obvious.”

    Even a topical look into history of spaceflight demonstrates that the gains received have yielded profits prove its worth.

    @Russ “We planned our vacation for the original launch on the 12’Th, and it cost me a lot of money to move to the 16’Th. This whole family trip is costing a fortune, but seeing the shuttle go up will make it all worthwhile.”

    Russ, do you have plans to see the launch from the Causeway (closest you can get, about 6 miles) or do you plan to watch the liftoff from outside KSC?

  12. 7. StevoR Says:
    November 5th, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Will this be the last flight for the Atlantis or does it have one or two more scheduled launches?

    I’ll miss the shuttles when they go – they may be old but they are still awesome machines. I’d rather they kept them flying and had as little gap as possible ..
    ____________

    After this mission, it’s scheduled to fly on STS-132 in May 2010, and it’ll be readied as STS-335, the rescue flight for the final shuttle mission next September.

    I’m torn over the end of the program. It will be sad to see these vehicles stop flying. I can think of few things more thrilling to watch than the moment the three mains start up at T-6 seconds before launch, and I get a lump in my throat thinking that after next year I’ll never see that again.

    But I also know that each launch is a lot of accidents waiting to happen. There are a lot of components on each vehicle that are very far past their rated operational lives and/or just extremely fragile – tanks that could explode, pipes that could burst, heat-shield tiles that could crack, etc. Many of them made by companies that don’t exist anymore. I can only imagine what kind of metal fatigue the skeleton of the ship suffers from 20+ years of going back and forth to orbit. That’s a LOT of expanding and contracting, as illustrated by Atlantis’ recent knobectomy.

    Another fatal accident will set back Constellation a lot farther, if not kill it entirely. I’d rather see the orbiters all on the ground intact and retired, rather than in burned-up pieces.

    Oh, and if you’re still feeling nostalgic, you can take some solace in the fact that the booster casings launching the Ares rockets will be mostly Shuttle veterans. Some of the ones used in the recent 1-X launch have been boosting since the 1980s.

  13. Steve A

    @MrQhuest #2

    This is really up in the air. I think it’s not quite at the stage yet where it could be tested at the station. Once its ready for prime time, then it’d be a matter of what would be available to launch it.

    @Sully #1

    Your just talking about the nature of space tech. Pretty much anything you build for launch into space is obsolete tech compared to what we have on Earth by the time it gets up there. It’s in the nature of the beast.

    I think what the shuttle helped to do, though, more than anything else, is make LEO flights attainable by any corporation by making us all think they are routine. If we’re going to truly be space explorers, you need other non-government people in on the action. So NASA did exactly what I think it should do: pave the way in areas business is too risk-averse to tackle until it is ready to do so.

    By the way, if anyone has a chance to see a launch, it’s absolutely amazing. I saw the launch for the Hubble repair mission and it still fills me with awe when I think about it. A video broadcast does not do it justice.

  14. here

    MrQhuest: The reason that communications and computing have made such great leaps in the past 50 years has been due to shrinking semiconductors: More transistors, smaller, using less power, faster.

    For human transportation to undergo a similar leap, we just need to shrink people.

    People (Americans especially) are going in the wrong direction. Which is why planes are still shaped like tubes and travel at subsonic speeds, and space travel continues to cost a whole bunch.

    Plus space is really high, and you have to go really fast to get into orbit. (Even Cubesats have launch costs around $30k. The perfusion of small commercial launchers will certainly bring this price down for small satellites).

  15. Eight years and fifty some days from ‘let’s go to the moon’ to “one small step.”

    We’ve been fiddle….. around with design studies on what to replace the shuttle with for eighteen years.

    Under current rates of decisionmaking Columbus’ great great grandchildren would have sailed in about 1692. Oh well, perhaps our great great granchildren will see a Mars landing, or arguably more practical, an asteroid landing.

  16. 14. Sully Says:
    November 5th, 2009 at 11:43 am
    Eight years and fifty some days from ‘let’s go to the moon’ to “one small step.”

    Well, not exactly. I mean, the Germans were perfecting the V-2 in the 1930s, and Robert Goddard obtained the patents for multi-stage rockets and the liquid-fuel engine in 1914. So if you put your starting point there, it was actually 55 years.

    And if you move your starting point back to the 17th Century, when the Indians were using iron-cased solid rockets or the 13th Century, when the Chinese were first using rockets in battle, you can see “one small step” as the climax of a 737-year project. So in that sense, 18 years fiddling with new technology — coincidentally, the same 18 years that saw the spread of the Internet, wireless telephony, GPS navigation, laptop computers, and other technologies that the modern-day Shuttle relies on — is really a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things.

  17. Charles Boyer

    By the way, for those that don’t know – the Air Force base that Phil is talking about is a Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is directly adjacent to Kennedy Space Center and shares the many of the same facilities.

    When Ares 1-X was being launched, for example, part of the concern of getting off the ground before the end of the week was so mutual personnel could move on to other scheduled launches.

    CCAFS is a facility that is operated by the 45th Space Wing headquartered in Patrick Air Force Base, which is just to the south of CCAFS.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CCAFS

    Ahhhh, home sweet home, where the sun is shiny, where rockets and missiles roam.

  18. Sheer humbug Toasterhead. By that logic you ought to put the development process all the way back to the first man supplying thrust to a log by paddling with a stick.

    Per Wikipedia the first stage engine had been test fired; but the Saturn V was only a gleam in the designers eyes in 1961, yet it flew in 1967. Six years from nothing on paper to a flight. One more year to a manned flight. Further, in 1961 they hadn’t even decided on the mission configuration which determined the necessary characteristics of the booster.

  19. StevoR

    @ 11. toasterhead Says:

    ____________

    After this mission, it’s [‘Atlantis’ is] scheduled to fly on STS-132 in May 2010, and it’ll be readied as STS-335, the rescue flight for the final shuttle mission next September.

    I’m torn over the end of the program. It will be sad to see these vehicles stop flying. I can think of few things more thrilling to watch than the moment the three mains start up at T-6 seconds before launch, and I get a lump in my throat thinking that after next year I’ll never see that again. But I also know that each launch is a lot of accidents waiting to happen.

    Thanks for that info. Much appreciated. :-)

    I certainly see where you’re coming from there.

    I guess I just hate the idea of having such a long gap and such uncertainty in us not having a US (western really) human- capable payload and flight system like Shuttle or Saturn-Apollo so I’d rather we flew the shuttle as late as possible to keep our space presence going.

    (Plus because just WOW! Shuttle launches & technology – love ‘em! ;-) )

    Spaceflight will always have an element of risk – I don’t think it can be otherwise but, yes, it makes sense to minimise that as far as reasonably possible – if no further! Some risks deserve to be taken! I’d like to see a bolder approach & yes, I’d be happy to risk my own life & if I died well better to die doing something I love than of Alzheimers in bed unfulfilled. That’s my perspective on things anyhow.

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