After the Columbia Orbiter tragedy, NASA changed the safety protocols for Shuttle missions to the International Space Station. When an Orbiter gets there, it performs a slow pitch so that astronauts on ISS can take a good look for any damage that might have occurred during takeoff. It’s a serious procedure, but during it they get really intense pictures of the Orbiter.
This dramatic shot [click to enspaceplanenate] was taken on May 18, 2011, shortly after Endeavour made its final rendezvous with ISS. It’s a view we don’t get when the Orbiters sit on the ground.
They also snapped this lovely shot of Endeavour’s wing shortly before docking. It’s an important picture — they are looking for potentially mission-threatening damage, after all! — but it’s also a beautiful one, well-lit, crafted, and executed. You should check out this picture, too, with the Orbiter’s payload bay doors open, and a tiny Moon in the background.
I may not be a 100% true fan of the Space Shuttle, but for many years it provided us with access to space. Flawed as the project is and was, these are magnificent machines, capable of doing a huge amount of work. As I write this, in fact, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 is being deployed on the ISS from Endeavour. AMS will investigate dark matter, antimatter, and other cosmological mysteries. It’s the grandest science, in my opinion, that has been done on ISS to date. I’m glad it’s up there, but I wish there were much, much more science to join it.
The next Shuttle launch is for Atlantis, its last, and the last of all the Shuttles. It’s currently scheduled for July 8 at 11:35 EDT, returning to Earth on July 20… interestingly, the anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.
Images credit: NASA
This flight will be notable for several reasons, besides the obvious. For one, it will bring the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 to the station. For another, it will feature the last suite of Shuttle astronaut spacewalks; four in total. Also, the Commander is Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in Arizona in January. There are plans for her to attend the launch, which would be very nice.
I will be on travel that day (as usual, sigh) but I might be home in time to watch the flight and live tweet it. If not, stay tuned to NASA TV to watch it live. You can get more info on the Shuttle at NASA’s site.
After this 14 day flight, there is one more scheduled Shuttle flight: Atlantis, in June.
On Thursday, March 10, the Space Shuttle Endeavour began its last 5 km trek to the launch pad.
When it launches on April 19 (scheduled at 19:48 EDT), Endeavour will bring parts and supplies to the International Space Station, as usual, but it will also be carrying the 7 ton the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a scientific instrument that, among many goals, will try to detect antimatter (to solve a long-standing puzzle of why so little exists in our Universe) and look for the subatomic signature of dark matter.
This will be Endeavour’s final scheduled flight.
Image Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann