Atlantis rides above the waves

By Phil Plait | May 23, 2010 8:00 am


The Space Shuttle Atlantis will undock from the International Space Station for the last time Sunday at 11:22 a.m. EDT (15:22 UT), and is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center on May 26 at 08:48 ET (12:48 UT). This image was taken during the last scheduled mission of Atlantis, still attached to the ISS as it orbits over the ocean. You can watch how it go there, too: NASA has uploaded incredible video from cameras located on the solid rocket boosters during launch.

Image credit: NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures, Space

Comments (14)

  1. Wow, there are an awful lot of alien spaceships flying along with the shuttle in those NASA videos.


  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great image. :-)

    Three questions if I may :

    1) This was taken from the International Space Station I presume? Or a camera on the robot arm?

    2) Why are there only six and not seven astronauts aboard Atlantis this time?


    3) Is this really & truly the very last mission Atlantis will ever fly?

    I hope the rumours are true & it gets one last flight with its “stand-by” mission being upgraded to a real flight. Any new news on that possibility? Anyone?

    The space shuttles were meant to be the way of the future, these amazing new reusuable spaceplanes that would make spaceflight routine .. or so we were told back in the early 1980’s. Can they really be a dead end? Will we really never fly anything like them again? That seems so sad & hard to believe. :-(


    If anyone from NASA is reading this & has any say in the matter – please give the shuttles one more flight. Ideally fly them all until their replacement is ready but if you can’t (& I guess that’s so) then let’s have just one more flight for Atlantis. Please, its what this fan wants.

  3. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 1. kuhnigget : Have you tried cleaning your monitor screen? ūüėČ

  4. Grizzly

    @ 2: No, this was taken from the solid rocket boosters that lofted Atlantis into space.

    I particularly like the sound recorded on the intertank views.

  5. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ MTU:

    Sad but likely a fact, you can likely only get one added SST mission at the most, from an external tank held as replacement backup.

    Reason being that the external tank production, if nothing else, has been dismantled, and the production equipment if not already sold out with the local is in the process of being so, IIRC an article a year back. You can never rebuild a dismantled production chain and get the same result, even if you by some unlikely luck could scrounge up the workers that understood exactly how it was done.

    That capability is, I believe, shot long ago. Remember that it has been a long process, started by the previous US administration years ago. It’s not something that you can start to act against this late.

    (I don’t think any risk calculation enter it either, as would be important in this case, the products will simply not be sufficiently comparable.)

    What you will have to do is to build the necessary know-how all over again, in developing an entirely new launch system.

  6. Zucchi

    @ Grizzly: I think M. Messier was asking about the photograph here on the blog, not the linked video.

    Great picture, and amazing video. Some moments of sheer poetic beauty. And the sounds from the micced intertank camera are downright eerie.

  7. gss_000

    @2. Messier Tidy Upper

    1) Many of these pictures are taken by astronauts from the station. I’m not sure of this one in particular.

    2) IIRC this is to free up more space and weight for cargo. One of the major objectives of these runs are to bring up as much as possible to keep the station going for years. While there will be other cargo runs, all of these spacecraft can’t carry as much. By reducing the crew by one, that’s more space you gain the weight of the astronaut and all the space and weight for the support supplies needed to keep that person alive.

    3) No news yet. A decision will have to be made in the next couple of months in order to prepare for the mission. What NASA is going to have to decide is whether they will risk launching the shuttle without a backup. This hasn’t been done since the shuttle has returned to service after Columbia. Now, in its favor, the shuttles are running much cleaner over these flights due to improved practices (see if you want to see all the nitty gritty), even though it still has to deal with aging equipment.

    I think more than safety, it’s going to come down to budget. Right now, there’s no money for an added flight. Unless you take it away from some other program, the President and Congress have to give the money for it. I don’t think this is likely as NASA budget increases are very hard to come by.

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    @7. gss_000 : Thanks – much appreciated. :-)

    @6. Zucchi Says:

    @ Grizzly: I think M. Messier was asking about the photograph here on the blog, not the linked video

    Yes, that’s it – the photo not the video is what I meant there & I know the SRB’s were ejected mid-flight to the ISS so I can’t see them taking that photo somehow! ūüėČ

    @5. Torbjörn Larsson, OM Says:

    @ MTU: Sad but likely a fact, you can likely only get one added SST mission at the most ..

    I’m only asking for just one more mission. I really wish we could keep the Space Shuttle’s flying forever but, yeah, I know that’s not realistic. One more flight for Atlantis is not too much to hope for though, I think. Although, yes, the budget is a bit of an issue but then again, I gather it doesn’t cost too much more to fly the Atlantis once it is prepared on stand-by for the current “final” Shuttle launch.

  9. ND

    Isn’t a standby shuttle needed for any mission in case the shuttle in that mission can’t do a reentry?

    Converting a standby mission for the Atlantis into a real mission without it’s own standby is a safety problem, no?

    The problem with the shuttles are that they ended up more expensive than needed and have fatal flaws. Two of those flaws were unfortunately demonstrated. Something like the shuttle should not be tried again until technology improves to make it’s original purpose much more reliable and cost effective.

    That said, is there really a need for a manned craft with that much cargo space? Cargo can always be launched separately.

    But it’s one damn cool looking spacecraft for sure :)

  10. Buzz Parsec

    ND – If they do decide to launch Atlantis again on STS-135, it will probably only have a crew of 4 and the astronauts will remain on the ISS if necessary and catch
    rides home on various Soyuzes. The Russians would most likely launch the next two Soyuz flights with just a single astronaut, providing seats for the stranded shuttle astronauts. They will have plenty of food, water and air to support 10
    astronauts for the 6 months or so it will take to do this.

  11. ND

    Buzz Parsec,

    Yeah, good ol’s soyuzes :)

  12. Sparky

    One point worth noting:

    Attached to the outside of the Rassvet module is an experiment airlock and a radiator (as well as a few other items) which will be transferred to the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, “Nauka”, when it launches in 2011 or 2012.

    When NASA first announced it’s plans to eventually deorbit ISS, Russia vowed to integrate certain parts of its segment into a new space station called OPSEK. The purpose of this station will be both science, and to potentially support manned deep-space exploration missions. It isn’t entirely clear which modules will go on to form OPSEK, but Nauka is sure to be one of them. (the other large components of the Russian segment, Zarya and Zvezda, are currently two of the oldest pieces of ISS, and therefore might be deemed too antiquated to be included into a “new” space station.)

    Thus, if the MLM does become the core module of OPSEK, it is possible that the parts that Atlantis just delivered MAY become the first pieces of the next space station to reach orbit. If that turns out to be the case, I can’t think of a better honor to send Atlantis out with.


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