After 25 years, 31 missions, more than 282 days in space and 17 visits to two different space stations, the space shuttle Atlantis is on the pad for its final flight. NASA-TV and spaceflightnow.com are providing live coverage of Atlantis’ final launch, scheduled for 1:20PM Central Daylight Time today (14 May 2010). Atlantis will launch on a 12-day mission to attach the Rassvet Russian research module to the International Space Station and swap out six massive batteries which have been on station for several years. After the flight, Atlantis will be prepared as the “rescue” shuttle for a contingency launch in case of a problem with future flights of the other two orbiters, Discovery and Endeavour. Assuming that’s not necessary, Atlantis will be retired, and museums across the United States are having gunfights over who will get her for display.
Atlantis has been the vehicle for some of the major milestones of the U.S., Canadian, and International space programs. Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir 7 tmies, building a base of experience that would result in today’s International Space Station. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was board the first flight (STS-74) to Mir in 1995, and colleague Steve Maclean also flew aboard Atlantis in 2006 on mission STS-115 to the International Space Station. Atlantis has also launched several significant satellites: the Galileo probe to Jupiter, the Magellan radar mapper to Venus, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, a space telescope that observes very high-energy raditioan from space.
Godspeed, Atlantis, and we thank you.