Added by Erik West on July 8, 2011
After 30 years and 135 missions, residents and visitors to Florida’s Space Coast witnessed the red glare of the Space Shuttle’s main engines during its final successful launch on Friday.
The weather at Kennedy Space Center was in question with a 70% of unfavourable conditions. At 10:48 Friday morning, just 40 minutes before the planned launch, launch managers declared that weather conditions were perfect for launch at 11:26, Eastern Time. The process of preparing the Shuttle, the programs 135th mission, started at about 2:01am when the 3-hour long fuelling of the 15-story tall external tanks began. The Space Shuttle’s reusable external tanks carry 535,000 gallons (2 million litres) of cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen which is used by the Space Shuttle’s three engines to get it in to orbit.
This final mission STS-135 is being flown by Atlantis, the fourth Space Shuttle orbiter of the five member fleet, was built and delivered in 1985 and launched in its maiden voyage on Octber 3 1985 on mission STS-51J. Atlantis is named for a two-masted ship that served as a primary research ship from 1930 to 1966 for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Atlantis was the first of the Space Shuttles to dock the Russian space station Mir in June 1995, it was the first of the fleet to launch with a camera mounted on the external tank and recorded the ascent in to orbit in October 2002, and was the final servicing mission to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in May 2009. Other shuttles in the fleet are Discovery, Endeavour, Enterprise, and Challenger. Challenger was destroyed and all of its crew lost on January 28, 1986, 73 seconds into its 10th mission.
The final mission of the Space Shuttle delivers a module and repair kits to the International Space Station, a system to investigate a method for robotically refuelling spacecraft, and returning with a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA engineers better understand the failure and improve future pump designs.