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Final Voyage of Space Shuttle Atlantis

The atlantis launched its last ex- pected mission from the kennedy Space center in Florida at 2:20 pm eST. it will deliver a Russian dock- ing and storage module, the Rassvet, to the international Space Station (iSS) on its 12-day mission. This flight marks the beginning of the end of the US space shuttle program. Only two flights will follow, by endeavour and Discovery, before the orbiter fleet will be retired and relegated to muse- ums. as Mike leinbach, Nasa's shut- tle launch director, adminstered the fi- nal countdown for the launch, crowds gathered on the Florida Space coast to catch a glimpse of the shuttle's last fantastic voyage into the sky.

leinbach radioed the crew from control: "On behalf of all the man- ufacturing, processing, flight and launch teams that have worked on at- lantis since March of 1980, i'd like to wish you all good luck, God speed; and have a little fun up there."

This will be the 32nd mission for the atlantis since its first in 1985. The launch was carried out with minimal complications, reaching an altitude of 220km above kennedy Space cen- ter before powering down its main engines. On day two of the mission, the atlantis crew will utilize a robotic arm and an accompanying sensor sys- tem to check the vehicle's surface in-

tegrity; on day three, they are expected to dock with the iSS.

although the shuttle retirement has outraged many, US President Barack Obama has announced that the new exploration policy is too ambitious for the current shuttle fleet, which has been operating since 1981. Nasa, for decades the embodiment of space ex- ploration, will no longer have the re- sponsibility of transporting astronauts to and from the iSS; instead, private companies will absorb that role, while Nasa concentrates on researching and developing shuttles that can go further into space than the present fleet can.

"The shuttles seem to be flying about as well as they've ever flown. We're flying longer missions and hav- ing fewer problems on orbit than we've ever had on the vehicles," veter- an astronaut Jerry Ross told reporters before the launch. Ross has five at- lantis spaceflights under his belt. "My own private, personal opinion is that the shuttle has run its course. it's time to press on with something different."

in its 25 year career, the


tis has launched interplanetary probes from orbit and led the Shuttle-Mir program, visiting the Russian Mir sta- tion more than any other shuttle. in addition to delivering the Rassvet to the iSS, the shuttle is also carrying a large rack with six new batteries for

International Life Magazine

the orbiting platform, an additional ku-band antenna, and a tool module for the Dextre robot system. During the course of three spacewalks, each of the three items will be appended to the outside of the platform.

The Rassvet attachment is expect- ed to be the trickiest part of the mis- sion. On day five, the crew will care- fully attach the Rassvet module to the underbelly of the iSS. Normally, Rus- sian modules are flown to their posi- tions, not attached via robotic arm. This means that the crew will have to take extra precautions to properly en- gage the docking mechanism. British- american astronaut Piers Seller said, "We're going to be pretending to dock this like a Soyuz or Progress space- craft." Piers will be directing robotic operations. "We're going to use the arm and very carefully approach the docking cone, and we're going to fool Rassvet into thinking it's docking it- self. That's how it's going to activate all its latches and hooks."

Upon its return, the atlantis will be prepared to act as a rescue shut- tle on standby in the event of any complications for the endeavour's November launch.Nasa has not yet ruled out the possibility of flying the atlantis out for additional supplies to the iSS.The next mission will see the Discovery deliver a container of sup- plies to the iSS. Nasa is pushing for a September launch.

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