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Godspeed Atlantis
May 14, 2010 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Barring the need for STS-335 and any potential extension to the program, today's 2:30 EST scheduled launch of OV-104 Atlantis on STS-132 (pdf) will be her 32nd and final trip to space. She's had a good run (gratuitous launch vid).
posted by cloax (57 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
What will Dr. Rodney McKay do now?
posted by Servo5678 at 9:03 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who works security at Kennedy, and he says everyone is rather sad about retiring the shuttle fleet. Yeah, they're old and way past their prime, but it's still depressing. I'm a huge space geek, and I have this frustrated feeling of "But guys... c'mon! You know... space!" *gestures wildly* There is talk of private sector endeavors assisted by NASA, but somehow it doesn't feel the same.
posted by xedrik at 9:13 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


This NASA blog has updates on the countdown and other launch info.
posted by TedW at 9:19 AM on May 14, 2010


That link appears to be dead TedW.
posted by Big_B at 9:21 AM on May 14, 2010


Works for me.
posted by cashman at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2010


But what about the secret space shuttle with laser guns, that one is still gonna fly, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:27 AM on May 14, 2010


Okay wierd, now it works. Nevermind.
posted by Big_B at 9:27 AM on May 14, 2010


pours some out for Atlantis
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:29 AM on May 14, 2010


.
posted by HumanComplex at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2010


What's an old shuttle going to do after retirement? Good question.
posted by Camofrog at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2010


Kennedy Space Center scanner feed: Stereo Feed ~ Left side = KSC trunked system *** Right side = Shuttle Landing Facility Tower, NASA weather aircraft, and support aircraft
posted by acro at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hard to believe it's coming to an end. Here's a bit of a self-link, forgive me, but I just posted a Big Picture entry on all the recent prep work for Atlantis and STS-132 here, will follow-up with launch photos as they come in.
posted by kokogiak at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


From the NASA blog (above):
"There are lots of white lapel ribbons adorning shirts around Kennedy today for the final planned spaceflight of Atlantis. Employees at Kennedy were given the commemorative lapel ribbons recently to mark the occasion and most of the folks in the Launch Control Center have theirs displayed prominently. The ribbons are printed in golden lettering with 'Atlantis' stylized on one arm and 'STS-132' on the other, with a shuttle image underneath.

This shuttle set a record between its first two flights that still stands: Atlantis' second flight launched only 50 days after its first flight ended. Both missions, launched in 1985, were successful."
What a keepsake/memento one of those would be to have.
posted by ericb at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2010


I don't know why, but those Big Picture photographs gave me goosebumps. It sad that the shuttle trips are coming to an end.
posted by ericb at 9:59 AM on May 14, 2010


I am very sad about the shuttle missions ending, too. But the note about Atlantis holding the record for quickest turnaround between missions (50 days) is precisely the reason the fleet needs to be retired. When the shuttle program first launched in 1981, the idea was that they would be able to have new launches every week. That didn't exactly happen, of course.
posted by zooropa at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2010


Any excuse to drive a tank!
posted by acro at 10:05 AM on May 14, 2010


When the shuttle program first launched in 1981, the idea was that they would be able to have new launches every week. That didn't exactly happen, of course.

Would have been nice though.

NASA's multimedia page has an iPhone/iPad/iTouch feed, which is nice.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:09 AM on May 14, 2010


When the shuttle program first launched in 1981, the idea was that they would be able to have new launches every week. That didn't exactly happen, of course

Metafilter's own eriko explains what happened there/
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:19 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose it's cool if all you want to do is get to Low Earth Orbit. Of course, the good paying union jobs are all in Geosynchronous Oribit...
posted by mikelieman at 10:34 AM on May 14, 2010


When the shuttle program first launched in 1981, the idea was that they would be able to have new launches every week. That didn't exactly happen, of course

Metafilter's own eriko explains what happened there/
Nice summary, thanks.

Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn't have been better off killing manned spaceflight for a generation while the USSR still had something going, just so the shame of going to the moon and stopping would have sunk in a bit deeper.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:48 AM on May 14, 2010


"Lit up with anticipation / We arrive at the launching site ..."

The lyrics to "Countdown" were always pretty awful, but the song and the video don't do a bad job at conveying some of the excitement that I felt as a kid on that April Sunday afternoon.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:50 AM on May 14, 2010


.
posted by GuyZero at 11:10 AM on May 14, 2010


So will the Hubble be abandoned? Or will the US have to beg Russia for a ride? Where is the replacement program?
posted by Cranberry at 11:11 AM on May 14, 2010


Here's the official countdown checklist for any other incurable space nerds who want to follow along. There's also a thread at NASASpaceflight.com with lots of live updates.
posted by teraflop at 11:13 AM on May 14, 2010


Kennedy Space Center scanner feed: Stereo Feed ~ Left side = KSC trunked system *** Right side = Shuttle Landing Facility Tower, NASA weather aircraft, and support aircraft

Thanks for this. Nasa TV is blocked where I am but this isn't!

Is the launch carried on the radio anymore? I remember listening as a kid back in the 80's.
posted by Big_B at 11:14 AM on May 14, 2010


Cranberry, yes, it will be abandoned. They did a servicing mission on it recently so it'll be able to run until its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope is launched.
posted by zsazsa at 11:17 AM on May 14, 2010


GOGOGO!
posted by Big_B at 11:21 AM on May 14, 2010


Sure gets out of there in a hurry, don't it?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:22 AM on May 14, 2010


0 -> 2500 mph in about 2 minutes, burning what did they say? Ten million pounds of fuel?
posted by dirigibleman at 11:24 AM on May 14, 2010


I'm at my desk, tearing up. I can't help but feel that the passing of the Shuttle program without a replacement is a visible sign of the decline of American engineering and manufacturing prowess. Sic transit gloria Americana, or something.
posted by workerant at 11:25 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


dirigibleman: The Shuttle's total weight at liftoff is about 4.5 million pounds. The commentator mentioned that it burns half of that weight in the first minute and a half after launch.
posted by teraflop at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2010


OK, there's no way it was 10 million pounds of fuel. I must have misheard.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:28 AM on May 14, 2010


Am watching this while listening to Donovan's Atlantis in the background.
posted by jquinby at 11:30 AM on May 14, 2010


If I worked at NASA when the programme finished, I'd probably try to quietly sneak a souvenir out of the place. Like, Discovery.
posted by bicyclefish at 11:38 AM on May 14, 2010


I can't help but feel that the passing of the Shuttle program without a replacement is a visible sign of the decline of American engineering and manufacturing prowess

Or more like a visible sign conservatives have intentionally bankrupted our government by not expecting large corporations or the wealthy to shoulder a fair share of keeping our complex civilization robust, and thereby among other things, undermined American engineering and manufacturing prowess. It takes a lot of money to put things in outer space, and the gullible and short-sighted public is electing more and more legislators who want the government (which NASA is part of) to have much less money than it once did. (Start by taking a look at top tax rates now versus when NASA was founded.)
posted by aught at 11:40 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd probably try to quietly sneak a souvenir out of the place. Like, Discovery.

You'd first have to get it by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, not to mention others vying for the remaining shuttles when they retire.
posted by ericb at 11:42 AM on May 14, 2010


"5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Beam Me Out Of This Death Trap, Scotty"
posted by docgonzo at 12:23 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't help but feel that the passing of the Shuttle program without a replacement is a visible sign of the decline of American engineering and manufacturing prowess.

I thought that was the Apollo landing sites, myself. Artifacts of humanity at its furthest reach, that haven't been touched since before I was born. At least low Earth orbits have the decency to decay, the Shuttles will one day gracefully rust and disappear, and most of our space probes will eventually be claimed by Martian dust, hidden in the interstellar black, etc. But the descent stages on the Moon? Those might be around longer than life on Earth. Sort of a Antonine Wall for the eons, saying "this is how far we got, and no further".
posted by roystgnr at 12:42 PM on May 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


So will the Hubble be abandoned?

Not just abandoned, destroyed. Part of the last service mission was attaching a docking probe to all us to send an unmanned booster up to dock with Hubble and deorbit it safely.

HST is too big to be allowed to reenter at random -- too much of a chance of some large parts making it all the way down at a high velocity. Odds are low that it would hit anything important, but they're not zero. So, HST will suffer the same fate as Mir -- deliberately deorbited in such a way that the debris that does make in through lands in empty ocean.

CGRO was deorbited with its own thrusters, and was quite controversial. All the instruments were operating, but CGRO was down to one functional gyro, and NASA was afraid that they couldn't control reentry if it failed.

The Hubble services missions did amazing things (amazing thing #1 was, of course, correcting the optical problems) but they were fantasically expense. It's arguable that we would have been better off just throwing new scopes up, rather than fixing HST over and over.

JWST won't have on-oribit repair capability, indeed, it won't even be in earth orbit -- it'll be at the Earth-Sun L2 point, which will put the Sun, Earth and Moon in the same general direction at all times, which allows one shade to block the light from all three objects.
posted by eriko at 12:55 PM on May 14, 2010


Aside. Mefi's own jscalzi was there, seeing his first (and as he notes, almost certainly last) Shuttle launch. I'm glad he saw it.
posted by eriko at 12:58 PM on May 14, 2010


So, HST will suffer the same fate as Mir -- deliberately deorbited in such a way that the debris that does make in through lands in empty ocean.

How high up do you have to be before atmospheric drag stops being a problem -- say, over a 100-year timescale? Is it even remotely feasible to boost Hubble (or, for that matter, the ISS) into such an orbit?
posted by teraflop at 1:12 PM on May 14, 2010


Teraflop, what would be the point? Eventually Hubble will stop working. Leaving it in orbit just makes it a hazard to navigation.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:45 PM on May 14, 2010


This is the moment when it sinks in for me that all the things that, as a child, I hoped to see in the future, will not happen in my lifetime. No moon bases, no flying cars, no humans on Mars, no AI, no undersea cities, nada. I was born a year and a half before the moon landing, and as a young SF junkie, you can imagine what I was hoping for.

Instead we got Chernobyl, Challenger, and climate change. Here's hoping the coming dystopia is at least interesting.

(Also, I really hope jscalzi writes something about his experience there.)
posted by bashos_frog at 2:16 PM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


teraflop: What LastOfHisKind said. However, for satellites up in geosynchronous orbit (which are 22,236 miles up instead of Hubble's 347 miles), they can be boosted up into a graveyard orbit, since it requires less energy to to this than de-orbit them.
posted by zsazsa at 2:29 PM on May 14, 2010


7 Cool Things You Didn't Know About Space Shuttle Atlantis.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2010


Farewell, Aquarius Atlantis, and we thank you.
She was a good ship.
posted by hangashore at 3:35 PM on May 14, 2010


MeFi's own Atchafalaya was there, too, catching his first and last. It was over quick. At first he flame was too bright to look at, then shrank to a tiny point that remained visible for a lot longer than I expected.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:47 PM on May 14, 2010


bashos_frog: I was born a year and a half before the moon landing, and as a young SF junkie, you can imagine what I was hoping for.

You and me both. I was seven when they first walked on the moon. To see them go from blurry monochrome images of Neil and Buzz sticking close to the lunar module to crisp colour video from a rover-mounted camera only two years later - good things were certainly on the way, and soon! Even Skylab sounded interesting, in terms of preparation for the upcoming long flights to Mars. And there was talk of an manned Apollo flyby of Venus by 1980. Little did I know that the budgets were already being sliced before Neil made his small step, as it became more obvious that the Russians couldn't get their big booster off the ground (safely) and had lost the race.
posted by hangashore at 4:31 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Teraflop, what would be the point? Eventually Hubble will stop working. Leaving it in orbit just makes it a hazard to navigation.

There are thousands of small to medium-sized satellites in LEO already, so I hardly think one more big object with a well-determined orbit is going to make much difference in that respect.

The HST represents a staggering achievement, both as a tool for scientific research and as an inspiration to the general public. If it's within our means to preserve it, effectively forever — and I don't know if it is, which is why I asked the question — then it seems awfully short-sighted to just toss it into the ocean. Is it not worth diverting a few tens of millions of dollars from NASA's $20 billion annual budget to preserve Hubble for posterity?

I guess what I'm thinking is that we're at a critical point in the history of spaceflight. Maybe in a century space travel will be dirt-cheap, and we'll be collectively kicking ourselves for destroying what could have been a priceless museum piece.
posted by teraflop at 4:41 PM on May 14, 2010


There is talk of private sector endeavors assisted by NASA, but somehow it doesn't feel the same.

As someone who had a toy Space Shuttle back in the 80s, I'm with ya. On the other hand, lauching stuff into space isn't the kind of thing that needs a government behind it, which is pretty cool in and of itself. Plus, it frees NASA up to work on robots.

ROBOTS!! :D
posted by maus at 6:53 PM on May 14, 2010


teraflop, one has to balance the sentimentality of remembering Hubble's historic achievements with the cost of maintaining it safely in any orbit. Even if it were boosted to GEO (at what cost, to only historical benefit), where would the money come from to keep it under human control? Eventually even those new gyros are all going to fail -- or the radios or computers.

Better to remember Hubble by its achievements, and use that money for new and better missions.

Mefi's own jscalzi was there

As was Mefi's own delfuego.
posted by dhartung at 7:51 PM on May 14, 2010


At first he flame was too bright to look at, then shrank to a tiny point that remained visible for a lot longer than I expected.

I was at a shuttle lauch a couple of years ago. I was amazed at how bright it was, even from six miles away, during broad daylight. It's kind of obvious in retrospect, but not something you get from video or TV. I wish I'd gone today. I've lived three hours from Cape Canaveral for over two years and I've only seen one shuttle launch.

There will still be rocket launches, which are cool, but let's face it. There isn't much that's cooler than a shuttle launch.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:51 AM on May 15, 2010


I was there yesterday, standing about waist-high in the Indian River. It was the most unbearably awesome thing I have ever seen, and I may or may not have cried like a fat gassy baby.
posted by elizardbits at 7:15 AM on May 15, 2010


(I work in flight control - all statements made here are my own and do not represent the views of NASA or my employer or etc. etc.)

STS-125, in a lot of ways, was sort of a pre-last-flight for Atlantis. Hubble is at a different orbital position from ISS (lower inclination and higher altitude), so when 125 launched last May you saw the flight path going up and straight out, instead of curving over as it does for an ISS launch. And then on orbit, all the camera views showed so much more of the earth's curvature, and I was too much of a n00b trainee then to understand a lot of the console displays, so I spent a lot of time staring at the TV downlink thinking "wow, we're never going to see the earth from exactly this perspective again." It was also the last flight for a lot of the payload interface equipment - other than the Russian module on this flight and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on 134 (neither of which use the stuff), we won't be needing anything close to that sort of super-involved payload telemetry and commanding ability again. And of course it was the last time they had two shuttles on the launchpads at the same time (Endeavour for STS-400, in case something went wrong and they needed to rescue the 125 crew), because soon afterwards they started modifying pad 39B for Ares 1-X.

I'm not on the ascent team, so I watched the 132 launch from one of the spare control rooms where they used to put payload personnel (there were still instructions taped on console from when the Hubble people were using the room). I missed the actual moment of launch while organizing displays - all the data just suddenly came alive (I like watching for the onboard computers to transition to ascent mode), someone announced "liftoff confirmed" over the console comm system (always very matter-of-fact; there is never any movie-style cheering and clapping in mission control on a flight), and then I remembered to look at the big screen on the front wall with the launch camera views, and there was the shuttle on its way.
posted by casarkos at 8:53 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was born a year and a half before the moon landing, and as a young SF junkie, you can imagine what I was hoping for.

Try being born just a few months before NASA was created, watching Gemini and Apollo. Watching a man walk on the moon live. You can imagine my disappointment. At least I won't live too far into the coming dystopia. It's just too bad my kids will probably never know what it feels to be living through a time of manned exploration.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:35 AM on May 18, 2010


.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:29 PM on May 18, 2010


For Shuttle Atlantis, A Final Landing
Atlantis blasted off on its maiden flight, a classified military mission, on Oct. 3, 1985. The orbiter flew another 31 times over the next 25 years, crossing the 120-million-mile mark early Wednesday.

Among the highlights of its quarter century of service were the launchings of robotic probes to Venus and Jupiter, deployment of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory satellite, five military missions and seven flights to the Russian Mir space station.

Atlantis also flew 11 missions to the International Space Station and visited the Hubble Space Telescope last year for a final overhaul.

“It’s a real honor to be among the 191 crew members that have flown on Atlantis in her over 300 days in orbit, 120 million miles,” Captain Bowen, a former submariner, said before re-entry. “Atlantis is actually named after a ship of research and discovery from a place I happened to study, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. And she has definitely lived up to her name.”

posted by zarq at 7:59 AM on May 26, 2010


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