Atlantis lifts off for the last time at 18:20 UT today

By Phil Plait | May 14, 2010 9:52 am

[UPDATE: Atlantis launch went smooth as silk. The Orbiter is doing its thing, and will proceed to the space station.]

sts132-patchThe Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for liftoff today at 18:20 UT (14:20 Eastern US time) for its final mission to the International Space Station. After it lands 12 days laterSometime later it will be officially retired from the fleet [statement updated, see first comment below.]

I will be covering the launch from Twitter using my BANews feed. There are lots of others covering the event as well, including my friend Tim Farley. You can also watch it all live on NASA TV. As I write this, there’s a 70% chance of liftoff (high clouds may mess things up).

Atlantis is the first of the Orbiters to retire. The last scheduled flight of a Shuttle, Endeavour‘s, is scheduled tentatively for mid-November. Discovery‘s last mission launches on September 16.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA
MORE ABOUT: Atlantis, launch, STS-132
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Comments (25)

  1. Phil,
    Thanks for the post! Hope all your readers are watching!

    I wanted to point out that Atlantis will not be fully retired for some months. Atlantis will be standing ready as the LON (launch on need) orbiter for rescuing the STS-134 crew, if needed, in November.

    For each shuttle flight to ISS, the next mission on the manifest will serve as the rescue vehicle if things go wrong. The shuttle doesnt have to stand ready and loaded (like the rescue shuttle for the hubble mission last year) because the crew can hide out on the Space station for a few weeks. Once we know rescue is needed, they’ll start putting the pieces together in the VAB and rollout to the launch pad. Thus, when Atlantis comes home in two weeks it’ll get a nice going-over and will go back into a 6-month flow to be ready for November.

  2. Anyone know what the plans are for the orbiters (and SRBs / external tanks) once they have all been retired? Will they be gutted and donated/sold off to museums? Hopefully, they won’t meet the same fate as the Buran orbiters and decay..

  3. The orbiters are being requested by many locations. In NYC, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum has the space, and has been begging for one of them. They have a great collection, and an Orbiter will make it a premier location. I have full membership. Worth every dime. The Smithsonian surely is on the list.

  4. However, the Smithsonian already has Enterprise, so it may be fair to other institutions to ‘spread the wealth around’. I am of the opinion that the Rocket Garden’s at Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center both deserve a bird…

  5. Grand Lunar

    Darn clouds here in Ft. Lauderdale might interfer with seeing the launch from my place.
    Thank Zeus for NASA TV.

    @3. Dmolavi,

    The SRBs and ETs might become part of the new heavy lift launch vehicle.
    That’s my hope; that something similar to Direct 3.0 might come to pass to make use of this hardware. From what I’ve read, they might develope the 5-segment SRBs to replace the 4-segment one, to produce an SD-HLV similar to the Jupiter 241 Heavy.

  6. Grand Lunar

    And she’s on her way up….

  7. Levi in NY

    Guy on NASA TV mentioned it was “her 32nd voyage to space”, which I initially misinterpreted as “her 30-second voyage to space”.

  8. They made it! Just watched it, and my 4 and a half year old daughter watched it as well, from the moment they precheck the stabilizer rudder and the three main engines ability to be “gimbaled” in different directions before start to the moment the external tank were jettisoned.

    You have at least have to TRY to indoctri… um… ENCOURAGE them when they are young to be interested in these matters.

    (My 2 and a half year daughter watched the actual start as well but were for obvious reasons not as focused as her big sister on the rest of the launch…)

    A bit sad that this probably is the last flight, but these vehicles has been in use for a long, long time. Hopefully, Atlantis don’t HAVE to fly in November, given that that flight will be an emergency rescue flight.

  9. TSC

    Hey, BA. I just wanted to let you know that your good friend Wil Wheaton has posted something rather touching about the launch over at his blog. And you may also want to call him on using the phrase “dark side of the moon.”

    http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/wwdnbackup/2010/05/some-of-us-are-looking-at-the-stars.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wwdn+%28WIL+WHEATON+dot+NET%3A+in+Exile%29

  10. ppb

    Ben Honey@6 & dmolavi@3:

    The Smithsonian has dibs on Discovery. They will be giving Enterprise up to some other museum.

    http://www.space.com/news/space-shuttle-enterprise-last-flight-100316.html

  11. Pics in the name, as always from the ground at KSC.

    I am really going to miss these. I was actually feeling rather emotional right after the launch when I realized this is likely the last time Atlantis will fly.

  12. jcm

    You might also want to check out The Boston Globe’s Big Picture: First of the last Space Shuttle launches

  13. Awesome… watched NASA TV on the OHP at the local planetarium before a lecture on meteorites by the Open Uni. Finally, myself and my son held a piece of Mars in the palm of our hands. What a fantastic evening.

    Glad the shuttle is retiring though…. 70s technology with a 1 in 70 catastrophic failure rate… glad its ending so we don’t lose more people and NASA can concentrate on more interesting things… such as an asteroid or Mars!

  14. olderwithmoreinsurance

    I sure hope this is the last time Atlantis has to fly. With about a 1 in 70 chance of a catastrophe, I stopped watching shuttle launches long ago.
    If Atlantis DOES have to fly again, on a primary mission, it won’t have a a Launch on Need shuttle standing by to help.

  15. Grand Lunar

    @ 15. jcm

    Kudos for the link to the Big Picture, JCM!

    I had no idea there was an APC at the launch pad for emergency purposes.

    I wonder what music ReelNasa will have for the STS-132 ascent highlights.
    Their series have been pretty good, starting with STS-129.

  16. Courtney

    Here’s my picture of the launch. That was from the NASA Causeway, about 6.5 miles south of the pad.

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great news & I’ve just watched the launch video via NASA-TV. (The NASA shuttle page.) :-)

    Missed seeing it live – was at 3 am over here in South Oz & there’s stuff I had to do this morning so I couldn’t stay up. :-(

    I thought there was a chance the Atlantis might yet fly again on one final mission next year? I hope so. Any news on how likely that prospect is anyone?

    Personally, I’d love to see the shuttles stay flying for .. as long as possible and preferably until their replacement is ready to take over immediately. Guess that’s not realistic but still ..

  18. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’ve just watched the launch video via NASA-TV. (The NASA shuttle page.)

    Which can be found here for those who don’t already know about it :

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

    Sorry, meant to add that link to my comment #19.

    There was a good story on SBS-TV news on the launch of STS-132 tonight btw.

    Farewell Atlantis & thankyou.

    (But I still hope you fly at least once more & that this isn’t therefore the end for you.)

    @9. Levi in NY Says:

    Guy on NASA TV mentioned it was “her 32nd voyage to space”, which I initially misinterpreted as “her 30-second voyage to space”.

    LOL. Good one. Althoughshe’d have to faster than the Flash to manage *that!* :-)

    @7. Grand Lunar Says:

    @3. Dmolavi, The SRBs and ETs might become part of the new heavy lift launch vehicle. That’s my hope; that something similar to Direct 3.0 might come to pass to make use of this hardware. From what I’ve read, they might develope the 5-segment SRBs to replace the 4-segment one, to produce an SD-HLV similar to the Jupiter 241 Heavy.

    I hope so too. It would be such a waste NOT to use them or the technology we’ve developed with the Shuttles in *some* form. :-(

    British SF writer Stephen Baxter suggested shuttle technology and gear could be used for a flight to Titan in one novel! ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titan_(Stephen_Baxter_novel) ) I’d love it if that was possible! I’m not sure how plausible that suggestion was though! 😉

  19. Plutonian

    @17. olderwithmoreinsurance Says:

    “I sure hope this is the last time Atlantis has to fly. With about a 1 in 70 chance of a catastrophe, I stopped watching shuttle launches long ago.”

    Yes, spaceflight is risky.

    It always has been & probably always will be.
    (Just like motorsport or mountaineering or sky-diving.)

    The astronauts are the people who choose to take that chance and risk their lives judging the benefits – the knowledge, the experience, the accomplishments – make it well worth taking the risk.

    It’s quite simple – if people aren’t willing to risk their lives then they don’t volunteer to fly and stay home instead.

    No one is forcing anybody to fly and the astronauts are well aware of the potential consquences if things go wrong. When Alan Shepherd became the first American to fly in space, the rockets he was flying on were notorious for blowing up and many at the time felt his chances of surviving were far, far worse than 1-in-70. That’s what made him and the others who had the courage and skill and honour to follow him into space so special. That’s (at leats in part) why we celebrate their lives and why they are heroes.

    Many people (I, personally, am among them) *would* if given the chance to fly into space even knowing the odds were *much* worse – one in ten, say, or fifty-fifty or, indeed, even knowing for sure that their flight (say one to Mars or an asteroid) would be strictly one way take the opportunity with no hesitation.

    Moreover, even with the safest technology and most cautious policies imaginable lives cannot ultimately be saved – all that can be done is to postpone the date and change the method of death.

    We will all die one day of something. How would you rather go?

    How would you rather die – in a Space Shuttle fireball in the prime of your life doing what you loved most, doing something truly remarkable and adding to human knowledge and achivements?

    Or in a nursing home as an unremarakble, un-achieving, unmemorable person, dying slowly and painfully without control of your bladder and bowels with all the humiliations and torments of old age and losing even your identity to the ravages of Alzheimers?

    Would you rather live a rich and risk-filled life or a safe and stale one?

    Personally, I’d take the risks and prefer to die younger but more gloriously every time.

    But I won’t force that on anyone else. I won’t stop people from making the choices I’d choose or the one’s I wouldn’t. I *do* however deeply respect those who do put their lives and their health and their future on the line for the sake of everybody else and I’m sure most other people do too.

    Soldiers, adventurers, mountaineers and travellers, racing car drivers and, yes, astronauts are held in high esteem because they are courageous and thereby enable *everyone* in society to benefit as a result of their willingness to risk everything for what they believe in. If safety was all they cared about they wouldn’t do what they do and we wouldn’t respect them they way we do.

    There is, of course, a word in the english language for someone who puts physical safety above all else : that word is ‘coward’ – and such people are generally NOT held in high esteem.

    If we fly shuttles yes we may lose a crew. This is sad and we will grieve for them. But we will also celebrate and honour and remember them. And we will, hopefully, follow in their footsteps after fixing whatever went wrong as best we can and carry on their work by launching other shuttles and other people because it is hard and risky and extraordinary – and worthwhile. That’s how we learn and improve and achieve.

    @16. Andy Fleming Says:

    Glad the shuttle is retiring though…. 70s technology with a 1 in 70 catastrophic failure rate… glad its ending so we don’t lose more people and NASA can concentrate on more interesting things… such as an asteroid or Mars!

    Yes. Now *that* is a valid reason to retire the Shuttles – if we have moved on and are ready to do something better and fly new craft that are able to do more wonderful and remarkable things. Sadly, it seems to me, the shuttles are not being replaced by something better, by mor eambitious craft flying further missions to break new records and take us to new places but rather because we’ve run out of the will and money to keep striving. Which is frankly, pretty pathetic and depressing. :-(

  20. Brian

    In case anyone is interested, here is my video of the launch from the NASA Causeway. There are only a few of these left, if you have a chance to see one of the last, I would definitely recommend it. It was an awesome experience.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf9dgusaOHE

  21. I was at the same astronomical society meeting as Andy ( #16 ). By a very fortunate coincidence, the launch occurred ten minutes before the start of the meeting, so we were all able to watch the live coverage.
    As a Brit, I’ll also mention that this is the last flight of British astronaut Piers Sellars.

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