Atlantis goes head over heels

By Phil Plait | July 11, 2011 10:18 am

On Friday, the Space Shuttle Atlantis flew into space for the last time. After a dramatic countdown — there was a hold at 31 seconds before launch while a glitch was run down — it leapt into the sky, and into orbit.

It takes a while to catch up with the space station and match orbits, and even when it does there are some chores to perform. After the loss of Columbia in 2003, the Orbiters need to be checked to make sure the heat-retaining tiles are intact; it was damage to the wing that let super-heated plasma into Columbia when it was returning to Earth.

The Orbiters do a slow 360° flip, pitching all the way around, so cameras and astronauts on the station can take a looksee. NASA just released video of Atlantis’s last pirouette yesterday, July 10. I took the video and sped it up by a factor of four so you can see it clearly:

Pretty cool, huh? [Make sure to set the resolution to 720 or 1080p to get the full effect!] You can see the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, named Raffaello, in the payload bay; it’s filled with supplies and spare parts for the station.

You can watch the original version of the video on NASA’s site.

Credit: NASA

Related posts:

Atlantis rides above the waves
Sunrise on Atlantis
Where now, NASA?
Discovery’s last moment in the Sun


Comments (25)

  1. Lynn Wilhelm

    Cool, and thanks for making me dizzy!

  2. JHGRedekop

    Shouldn’t this have “The Beautiful Blue Danube” on the soundtrack?

  3. I watched the launch from just a few miles away, right across the water from the launch pad. It was spectacular, of course, although short due to low cloud cover.

  4. Gjeff

    Look at that! The payload bay was half empty. They could have taken up another satellite and some lawn furniture for the ISS deck. The view is spectacular. Why waste it?

  5. Al Cibiades

    Absolutely Beautiful! Thanks for this parting view.

  6. Kevin

    That’s amazing.

    I know the video is sped up but how could they maneuver the ship like that in space? Was it done in the upper atmosphere instead?

  7. OtherRob

    @Kevin, it’s done with maneuvering thrusters (rockets), not by “flying”.

  8. Someone You Know

    I was quite surprised when I watched this. For some reason I was expecting the shuttle to roll instead of flip, i.e. rotate on its nose-to-tail axis instead of its wing-to-wing axis. Is there any particular technical reason to do it one way or the other?

  9. Sarah

    Someone You know: moment arm. There are maneuvering thrusters on the nose ( and tail? ) so it’s best to use the long arm w/r/to the CG. Or should I say, center of mass..

  10. Old Geezer

    Was I the only one who felt like the payload was going to fall out when the shuttle turned “upside down?”

  11. Thank u,this clip put a smile on my face because it is impressive & amazing.

  12. Old Geezer, I was expecting a flock of doves to fly out. Or maybe for Harry Houdini to have climbed out without opening any doors.

  13. Ross

    I wonder why the ISS gets so little media coverage. I’m a long time subscriber to Discover, Popular Science, and Air and Space magazines, but I rarely see any info about ISS. On Friday, Science channel ran about 8 hours of space programming, but it was almost all about the early space programs and moon landings, hardly anything about ISS. Am I just not plugged in to the right media outlets?

  14. i can’t even parallel park my car. no shuttle captainship for me in my future!

    oh, wait. they cancelled the program.


  15. Grand Lunar

    This is one aspect I will miss with the retirement of the shuttles.

    Also, it shows that in real life, your spacecraft doesn’t always have to point in the direction of travel, as seen in several sci-fi films and TV series.

    I’m with Ross’s opinion here; where is the right place to be in touch with what the ISS is doing?

  16. Rocky Roer

    Great video. I only wish the video had been flipped vertically so the earth underneath moved from bottom to top of the screen instead. That way would help create the feel that the orbiter is truly in “free fall”. Many of my high school students think astronauts are weightless because there’s no gravity that far out in space — which is not true. It’s the free falling nature of their orbit which causes that effect, and I think this video might really help them sense that.

  17. @Ross: I’ve had the same complaint for a while now. I’m always hearing amazing science updates from Hubble and Kepler and Cassini and Messenger. I never see any news about the science happening aboard the ISS. Every news item I can recall seeing is about the construction, or the occasional near miss with some space debris, or Colbert’s treadmill. And I know it’s still technically a construction site, but it’s also been an active lab since Destiny went up in 2001.

    According to the ISS wiki page, there are lots of active experiments happening there, so they’re just not being publicized very well.

  18. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great clip, beautiful. :-)

    @2. JHGRedekop : “Shouldn’t this have “The Beautiful Blue Danube” on the soundtrack?”

    Er, you mean like in this :

    classic clip? BTW. In case it helps, I think the music you are referring to is :

    titled the Blue Danube Waltz – although I could be mistaken, natch. :-)

    @13. Ross & # 15. Grand Lunar :

    “where is the right place to be in touch with what the ISS is doing?”

    This link via wikipedia (as #17.TheMathSkeptic has noted.) :

    gives a list of websites that could be of use there, hopefully.

    I agree that we don’t seem to hear much of what the International Space Satation has been up to -although the media does tend to report on the stunts and quirky things like the odour-eating underpants project, the space beer one and the silly golf ball strike.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    Looks like I was, indeed, mistaken in what I said in comment #18 (currently awaiting moderation) above :

    The Blue Danube is the common English title of An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314 (German for At the Beautiful Blue Danube), a waltz by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II.

    Source : The Blue Danube, wikipedia page, bolding and italics original.

    Sorry, JHGRedekop, your version of the title *is* closer to being right & I’ve learned my something new for today. :-)

    @4. Gjeff :

    Look at that! The payload bay was half empty. They could have taken up another satellite and some lawn furniture for the ISS deck. The view is spectacular. Why waste it?

    I guess there’s a reason for that apparent payload bay emptiness there although I’m not sure what it might be.

    Given the cost of launch and it being the very last chance ever to use the Space Shuttle delivery service I’d be very surprised if they weren’t making careful, well-planned out use of every last bit of space to transport supplies and stuff up there.

    @3. PsyberDave :

    I watched the launch from just a few miles away, right across the water from the launch pad. It was spectacular, of course, although short due to low cloud cover.

    I watched the launch – on the TV. There was a news special here in Oz which had a good build up and carried it live. Sigh. You were very lucky, PsyberDave, I’m envious of you. 😉

  20. ND

    Well, the shuttle is a damn cool looking spacecraft. Not to mentions the biggest one ever. It’s slightly longer than an Eagle Transporter 😉

  21. jennyxyzzy

    Personally I was expecting it to shoot down a Cylon raider that was on it’s tail 😀

  22. Bob_In_Wales

    Sorry, totally off topic, but apparently Neptune is 1 today!

    Happy Birthday Neptune!

    Odd to think, isn’t it, that a planet discovered soooo long ago, personally speaking, is only today completing one orbit of the sun since it was discovered!


  23. Bob_In_Wales

    Re the payload bay being half empty – I don’t know but my guess would be that cargo carry-able is weight limited. If the module being taken up is small but dense then it would meet the weight limit before the volume limit, hence the spare space.

  24. DennyMo

    Could somebody double check my math on this? According to the mission summary posted at NASA’s website, Atlantis will separate from the ISS on Flight Day 11. This would be July 18. So, depending on what time of day the separation happens, flyovers on the July 18, 19, and (maybe) 20 should show the two chasing each other through the sky. Last time to see this bit of history.

  25. OK, so why didn’t the module fall out when it turned upside down?

    I saw “Rocketship XM and I know you fly straight up into space and then turn 90° to pick up speed from the Earth’s rotation.

    – Jack


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar