Sunrise on Atlantis

By Phil Plait | June 27, 2011 5:02 pm

NASA just released this very pretty picture of the Sun rising behind the Space Shuttle Atlantis, taken on June 23:

When Atlantis launches — scheduled currently for July 8 — it will be the last time for the Shuttle program.

Learn more about this final mission on NASA’s STS-135 site (Flash).


Related posts:

- The last views of Endeavour and ISS
- Shadow of Endeavour
- Endeavour’s-eye-view of her last launch
- ISS checks Endeavour out

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (27)

  1. Messier Tidy Upper

    Nice image. :-)

    Bittersweet feelings. I have grown up with the Space Shuttle, one of my first childhood memories was watching the very first launch attempt of the Columbia (aborted with a computer glitch afetr hours of excited build up) back when this flash then-all white spaceplane was going to be *the* Future and seemed to be SF dream turned reality. It promised so much that it didn’t quite fulfil and yet it is still one of the most remarkable and successful spacecraft and a wonder of the world.

    I have seen it launch the Hubble Space telescope, so many spaceprobes and satellites, do so much that it is wonderful flying the first US woman into space, the first Aussie astronaut, Adelaide’s own Andy Thomas, one hundred and thirty four fabulous flights.

    I also recall the shocks of watching Challenger explode and Reagan on TV somberly announcing the news. Plus Columbia in 2003 breaking apart and burning up like shooting stars. Seems there are so many critics and knockers of the Space Shuttle and they have mad e a few good points – but in my view go too far.They seem to forget to compare it to other craft and fail to see that spaceflight liek motor-racing, mountaineeringand sky-diving willalways be risky and always cost lives however we do it. We nearly lost Apollo 13 and the Soyuz has claimed lives too. Less only because it flies less crew. The Shuttle -bashers fail to appreciate what it has done and how much poorer we’d have been without it. Not that we’ll ever know barring contact with alternate universes.

    Seeing that first launch as a boy I never would have guessed the Space Shuttle program would end like this leaving us back to square one with no replacement, no Moon colonies, no Mars landings and no skies full of more wonders such as the first reuseable spaceplane, the first and most triumphant Space Shuttles.

  2. So… Sunrise (on the shuttle)…sunset (on the shuttle program).

    Tevya is not amused.

  3. Messier Tidy Upper

    This is why I love the Space Shuttle and what we’ll all be missing the chance to witness again :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQSCn8O6omY

    I have watched that clip so very many times now and yet every viewing still leaves me awestruck and marvelling at the wonder of what the engineers have built and the astronauts flown. 8)

    This clip is one good look at how it all began :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgumPYJcL1U

    Whilst this 3-part series :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I8DZivcnMM&feature=related

    is a great nostalgic look back at the even earlier landing of the shuttle that never flew.

  4. Beau

    I’ll be in Florida from the 6-13. Hopefully I’ll get to see my first (and last) shuttle launch.

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Beau : You’re exceedingly lucky. I’ll be watching on NASA-TV from South Australia, the other side of the planet and no doubt at some ungodly midnight hour. I wouldn’t miss it for the world – and its remarkable to be able to do so – but I’d have so loved to have been able to see a Space Shuttle launch live and in person rather than on TV or computer screen. Sigh.

  6. VinceRN

    It’s quite sad that we are out of the space business now, and have no real plan to get back into it. Maybe another administration one day will put us back on the path, but I suspect that space is now, and for at least a generation, the business of China and Russia. I was optimistic about space a few years ago, when we were planning the Moon and Mars, now we are planning…nothing. Very sad.

  7. Gorgeous; I wish I could be there for the launch.

  8. Agreed. Im more of a sunset type of person however. :)

  9. BJN

    Hail Atlantis!

    http://youtu.be/leI7sfmipuI

    It struck me as odd that we had a shuttle named after a mythical island nation. Turns out the shuttle is named after a Woods Hole two-masted research vessel named “Atlantis”.

  10. My favorite shot of Atlantis on the pad (STS-129).
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto/4107686453/in/photostream/

    I’ll be there next week. We’ve had some stormy weather here in Central Florida lately. Hopefully it won’t be scrubbed.

  11. DennyMo

    I’m selfishly praying (oops, sorry, “hoping”) for delays: it’d be nice if the launch happened while we’re in Cocoa Beach at the end of the month. Barring that, I’m hoping for clear night skies so we can watch the shuttle and ISS chase each other one last time.

  12. MadScientist

    @VinceRN: I think delusional managers are a large part of the problem. People come up with cockamamie ideas (let’s send humans to Mars!), then partway through the long and costly process of building new rockets and capsules (which are not suitable for flight to Mars anyway) the whole lot is axed because someone claims too much was spent and there’s a cheaper way of doing things. In a few more years the new projects will be axed again because some dodo has yet another cheap way of doing things. Too many half-done jobs = an even bigger waste of money – unfortunately managers do not always aim to make a project succeed, many only aim to get paid huge sums of money which they do not deserve.

  13. 6. VinceRN Says:
    June 27th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    It’s quite sad that we are out of the space business now, and have no real plan to get back into it.
    —–
    True. It’s not like we have a probe about to orbit Vesta, a probe orbiting Mercury, another one en route to Pluto, a new Mars rover launching later in the year, a probe touring the Saturn system sending back mind-boggling data every day, and an orbiting telescope finding exoplanets by the hundreds. The United States is completely out of the space business because we can’t send humans to do donuts in LEO for $1.5 billion a launch.

  14. jfb

    The Math Skeptic @ 12:

    Didn’t you get the memo? Only manned spaceflight is real spaceflight. All those unmanned missions that actually advance the state of human knowledge about the rest of the solar system and beyond don’t mean squat. If it ain’t people doing it, it ain’t worth doing.

    Not to mention that we’re not out of the business of sending people into space; we’re in a transition period where we’re developing commercial options for transport to LEO and potentially beyond.

    It is fair to say that we’re out of the business of building Apollo-style missions. The days of building a BFR to lift an entire manned mission stack plus the crew in a single launch are effectively over (I don’t expect the SLS to make it past the study phase). Better to leverage existing smaller-lift capacity and integrate the stack in orbit.

  15. Beau

    @ DannyMo

    Well hopefully my prayers for no delay will cancel out your prayers for a delay ;)

    In all honesty though, I’m expecting to be disappointed by delay. After all, the longer they draw out the launch the longer people at NASA will have jobs ;) But in all seriousness, this is the final launch and I’m sure they want everything to go off perfectly.

    I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it launches on the 8th. Either way, I’ll still make a visit to the KSC.

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Isn’t a delayed attempt or two virtually traditional? Would we really want to skip that tradition? ;-)

    @14. jfb :

    So can you name the first robotic spaceprobe to land on the Moon off the top of your head then? ;-)

    Without cheating by looking it up in wikipedia or an old-fashioned paper encyclopedia? ;-)

    Even if you can do this, how many others in the mainstream community can do that do you think?

    Now how quickly can you name the first person to land on the Moon – and the second & again how many others do you reckon know his name? Plus in all probability his companions and his spacecrafts?

    I’m NOT knocking the robot spaceprobes – I love them and their work and think they contribute a wonderful amount to our knowledge of the solar system and beyond. But.

    1. It ain’t a zero-sum equation – we can do both human and robot space exploration.

    2. Humans on the spot can do things that robots can’t and are alot more flexible in their capabilities.

    3. There *is* something intangibly but really special about having people – as opposed to just machines – going places, landing there and learning and seeing in person.

    I see your point but I’d also say that manned (for want of a better word) spaceflight has a vital and worthwhile role to play too and deserves to be respected NOT attacked.

  17. jfb

    MTU @ 16:

    Without looking it up, I believe the first US probe to soft land on the Moon was one of the Ranger series. Don’t know the number off the top of my head.

    And yeah, assuming I have that anywhere close to right that makes me an outlier; hell, the fact that I’m aware that there were any unmanned missions to the moon before Apollo makes me an outlier.

    OTOH, the Voyager probes are practically as famous as Armstrong, and in terms of useful science they’ve eclipsed the Apollo missions by an order of magnitude.

    It’s not so much that I’m critical of manned spaceflight in general; I just think that , when it comes to basic exploration, unmanned systems make a hell of a lot more sense economically and scientifically. Frankly, the only thing manned spaceflight would be good for would be colonization, and that’s not going to happen without an extensive unmanned infrastructure.

    1. It ain’t a zero-sum equation – we can do both human and robot space exploration.

    No argument here. But we shouldn’t duplicate effort between the two.

    2. Humans on the spot can do things that robots can’t and are alot more flexible in their capabilities.

    But the tradeoff is getting the people there and keeping them alive long enough to do something that justifies the trip. Not to mention there are environments that are simply too harsh for humans to survive, even with all our technology. We’re never going to put boots on Mercury, for example. We’re not going to be sending people to the outer planets.

    3. There *is* something intangibly but really special about having people – as opposed to just machines – going places, landing there and learning and seeing in person.

    Intangibles don’t pay the bills. Intangibles don’t make up for accomplishing the same mission with an order of magnitude less mass and several orders of magnitude less expense. Intangibles, frankly, don’t count for squat.

    The US manned program is a mess. It’s become a jobs program above everything else, and anything that makes sense from an engineering and economic standpoint is overruled in favor of political considerations. I’m pessimistic that the SLS will ever get built, much less fly. So yeah, I’m critical.

  18. 16. Messier Tidy Upper Says:

    So can you name the first robotic spaceprobe to land on the Moon off the top of your head then?
    ——
    Luna 2, if crashes count. Luna 9 if you mean the first landing where the probe actually survived.

    And yes, I did have to look it up on Wikipedia. So, point taken. But I’ll raise you one – can you name one scientific discovery made or journal paper produced from research being conducted on the ISS, without looking it up?

    I know I can’t. I read/watch/listen to a lot of science news and while I’m always hearing about amazing new discoveries from Cassini and Kepler and even Voyager, all I ever hear about the ISS are construction updates.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for manned (personed?) space exploration. I agree that we can and should do both. And I’m not a shuttle-hater, either. I love the vehicle and have ever since I first saw it launch in 1981. Believe me – I will have tears in my eyes watching that final launch on TV with my seven-month-old.

    But manned exploration has to have a purpose. “Because we can” and “because it’s hard” aren’t very good reasons to send people into space anymore. Yes, humans can do things robots can’t, and are flexible in ways robots aren’t, but I see this as a temporary distinction. After the singularity, when our machines become self-aware and enslave us, it will be a different story. (At that point, the robots will probably be sending US into space, since we’re plentiful, disposable and relatively cheap to produce. But that’s a different thread topic…)

    The thing is – we haven’t done human space exploration for 40 years. We’ve just done a lot of very expensive driving around the block. Some of this was out of necessity – technology had to catch up with our ambitions a bit. Now it’s time for NASA to do the cool stuff – put people on an asteroid, put people at L5, put people on Mars. Let the private sector do the ISS taxi service and establish the mining colonies on the moon.

    Trust me. We’ll need those colonies to re-populate the planet after the machines wipe us out.

  19. here

    MTU@1:

    The whole it “will always be risky and always cost lives however we do it, ” approach towards the Challenger and Columbia accidents annoys me. There is a difference between accepting unavoidable risks that come with doing difficult, risky things and doing stupid things that result in people dying.

    The accident reports go into the details (and Feynman’s analysis in the appendix was especially perceptive), but the shuttle had some bone-headed design choices and the agency’s handling and decision making compounded them.

  20. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ here : “The whole it “will always be risky and always cost lives however we do it, ” approach towards the Challenger and Columbia accidents annoys me.”

    It annoys me that everyone forgets that the Space Shuttle has landed safely successfully accomplishing the awe-inspiring and dangerous feat of blasting off into orbit and returning in one piece to Earth again one hundred and thirty plus times but its two very rare failures seem to get all the attention. :-(

    There is a difference between accepting unavoidable risks that come with doing difficult, risky things and doing stupid things that result in people dying.

    I agree to an extent – but without taking risks we couldn’t get anywhere. Some things are intrinsically, inherently dangerous. Heck, life in general, just crossing the road or driving a car comes with risks let alone things like motor-racing, mountaineering and sky-diving that people do for pleasure and knowledge and advancing technology. Seems to me we have become far too timid and risk averse, far less willing to take bold actions that can pay off much better, far too ‘soft’ (for a want a better word) and complacant as a society.

    Yes, risks should be minimised and we should make things as safe as possible. Do you think NASA is NOT doing that already? I’m sure they are. Were mistakes made? D’uh! But that’s life. That’s one way we learn and improve – by making then remedying our errors.

    The astronauts are volunteers who know what they’re getting into. Space exploration is worth doing and no one is compelled to do it who doesn’t wish or lacks the courage to do so. We should reward and honour these people – not deny them their chance. Its how Humanity has got where we are now and is a key part of our nature.

  21. Messier Tidy Upper

    @17. jfb :

    MTU @ 16: Without looking it up, I believe the first US probe to soft land on the Moon was one of the Ranger series. Don’t know the number off the top of my head.

    &

    @18. The Math Skeptic :

    Luna 2, if crashes count. Luna 9 if you mean the first landing where the probe actually survived.

    Yep, Lunak II is correct for the first one ever and one of the later Rangers [Edit : Ranger 7 to be precise] for the first US successful one incl. impacts. Well done. :-)

    But do people who were alive at the time remember where they were on those days? Very few if any would certainly compared with the Apollo 11 landing.

    @The Math Skeptic :

    I’ll raise you one – can you name one scientific discovery made or journal paper produced from research being conducted on the ISS, without looking it up?

    Yes I can actually – the “super underpants” that one astronaut – a Japanese one if I recall right – wore for the whole time he was up there designed to resist odours! ;-)

    Okay, not the most glorious or significant experiment in history but it was memorably on the news – oh & another is a group seen on the Aussie ‘Catalyst’ science show developing space beer to be drunk there. ;-)

    Can’t give you the paper titles I’m afraid but that’s something isn’t it? Of course, we also have to remember here that the International Space Station has mostly been a construction project up till now and now that it is finished we’ll hopefully get a better chance to see what it can do science~wise.

  22. Messier Tidy Upper

    @18. The Math Skeptic :

    But manned exploration has to have a purpose. “Because we can” and “because it’s hard” aren’t very good reasons to send people into space anymore.

    I’ll let Stephen Hawking answer that one :

    ‘Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.”

    - Stephen Hawking, 8th January 2007 – interviewed before taking a zero-gravity flight for his 65th birthday.

    Or would you rather hear what JFK had to say :

    “This [space] is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”
    - President John F. Kennedy after John Glenn’s first orbits in ‘Friendship-7’ on Feb. 20th 1962.

    Or how about :

    “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”
    – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

    Suffice to say I agree 100% with these quotes and these people – and others like Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and even the BA here – who think our future lies in space exploartion and that we risk extinction sooner rather than later without doing so.

    PS. There’s a great chapter in Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ book that springs to mind in this context too and puts things far better than I ever could. :-)

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    I agree 100% with these quotes and these people – and others like Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and even the BA here – who think our future lies in space exploration and that we risk extinction sooner rather than later without doing so.

    What the BA said here, for instance, :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/11/28/why-explore-space/

    & here where he references Neil D.G. Tyson’s article :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/08/06/neil-tyson-on-exploring-space/

    & here where he exposes the silliness of anti-space exploration statements by Katie Couric :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2006/10/18/katie-couric-is-a-bonehead/

    is all spot on in my view.

    I think the Apollo missions were the greatest thing that our Human species has ever done – and the Space Shuttle and Space Stations come second with the Voyager missions third. :-)

  24. here

    MTU@20:
    “”"
    Yes, risks should be minimised and we should make things as safe as possible. Do you think NASA is NOT doing that already? I’m sure they are. Were mistakes made? D’uh! But that’s life. That’s one way we learn and improve – by making then remedying our errors.
    “”"

    That is exactly what did not happen.

    Feynman’s appendix is here btw: http://www.ralentz.com/old/space/feynman-report.html

    I’ll quote a bit:
    “”"
    The history of the certification and Flight Readiness Reviews will not be repeated here. (See other part of Commission reports.) The phenomenon of accepting for flight, seals that had shown erosion and blow-by in previous flights, is very clear. The Challenger flight is an excellent example. There are several references to flights that had gone before. The acceptance and success of these flights is taken as evidence of safety. But erosion and blow-by are not what the design expected. They are warnings that something is wrong. The equipment is not operating as expected, and therefore there is a danger that it can operate with even wider deviations in this unexpected and not thoroughly understood way. The fact that this danger did not lead to a catastrophe before is no guarantee that it will not the next time, unless it is completely understood. When playing Russian roulette the fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next. The origin and consequences of the erosion and blow-by were not understood. They did not occur equally on all flights and all joints; sometimes more, and sometimes less. Why not sometime, when whatever conditions determined it were right, still more leading to catastrophe?

    In spite of these variations from case to case, officials behaved as if they understood it, giving apparently logical arguments to each other often depending on the “success” of previous flights. For example. in determining if flight 51-L was safe to fly in the face of ring erosion in flight 51-C, it was noted that the erosion depth was only one-third of the radius. It had been noted in an experiment cutting the ring that cutting it as deep as one radius was necessary before the ring failed. Instead of being very concerned that variations of poorly understood conditions might reasonably create a deeper erosion this time, it was asserted, there was “a safety factor of three.” This is a strange use of the engineer’s term ,”safety factor.” If a bridge is built to withstand a certain load without the beams permanently deforming, cracking, or breaking, it may be designed for the materials used to actually stand up under three times the load. This “safety factor” is to allow for uncertain excesses of load, or unknown extra loads, or weaknesses in the material that might have unexpected flaws, etc. If now the expected load comes on to the new bridge and a crack appears in a beam, this is a failure of the design. There was no safety factor at all; even though the bridge did not actually collapse because the crack went only one-third of the way through the beam. The O-rings of the Solid Rocket Boosters were not designed to erode. Erosion was a clue that something was wrong. Erosion was not something from which safety can be inferred.
    “”"

    The same pattern of “it worked last time…it’ll be ok this time, even though it shouldn’t be happening in the first place” occurs again in Columbia because of the main tank shedding ice and insulation. NASA did not learn from their errors or remedy them.

    Another example, is the lack of emergency egress from the stack during portions of the launch. That is not an inherent risk of space flight; other craft have escape towers. The shuttle doesn’t, and it not having them isn’t for a particularly good reason or major benefit, (it’s simply an artifact of the convoluted specifications the shuttle was designed under).

    I’ve no problem letting these people take whatever risks they want, but it’d be nice if NASA took care of the risks they know about: there are enough risks we don’t know about and can’t control to keep it dangerous.

  25. 20. Messier Tidy Upper Says:
    It annoys me that everyone forgets that the Space Shuttle has landed safely successfully accomplishing the awe-inspiring and dangerous feat of blasting off into orbit and returning in one piece to Earth again one hundred and thirty plus times but its two very rare failures seem to get all the attention.
    ——

    That’s just human nature. It’s why Apollo 13 was a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks and Clint Howard and Apollo 12 was at most a History Channel documentary.

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ The Math Skeptic : Yeah, I know. Still annoys me though. Human nature is often irritating. :-(

    As for the Challenger report; yeah that was a bad situation were mistakes were made that shouldn’t have been. People stuffed up very badly with dreadful consequences in that case. :-(

    I do think that was more the exception than the rule though as the hundred and thirty plus other flights that *did* land safely tend to indicate.

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