Last Ever Shuttle Journeys out to the Launch Pad; Photo Gallery

by Ken Kremer on June 4, 2011

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The last shuttle that will ever blast to space has journeyed from the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building out to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida in anticipation of liftoff on July 8 at 11:38 a.m.

It was a proud and bittersweet moment for all the shuttle team members from top to bottom as Space Shuttle Atlantis was rolling out overnight to Launch Pad 39 A, at the same time that Space Shuttle Endeavour was plunging into Earth’s atmosphere for the scorching reentry and landing back at the shuttle landing strip at KSC.

Thousands of NASA and contractor employees and their families had been given special passes to witness the dramatic nighttime sojourn of Atlantis in a morale booster event as she emerged from inside the VAB on her way to the pad for what will be the grand finale of the 30 year long Space Shuttle Program.

STS-135 Crew during final rollout of Shuttle Atlantis to Launch Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center
STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson, left, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim talk to media as their vehicle, space shuttle Atlantis, makes its final journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A at KSC in Florida.
Credit: Chase Clark

I was privileged to watch and photograph Atlantis final journey from inside the VAB and the roof of the Launch Control Center (LCC). The LCC is the brain which commands and controls every aspect of Shuttle Launch operations.

The 12 day STS-135 mission will deliver the Raffaello logistic module to the International Space Station (ISS) which is loaded with critical spare parts, crew supplies and science gear that will be transferred to the massive orbiting outpost. Raffaello is a multipurpose logistics module built in Italy.

The STS-135 mission is a bonus for the shuttle program and was only officially added to the manifest in January 2011 as NASA sought funding from the Obama Administration and the US Congress.

The all veteran four person crew is led by Shuttle Commander Christopher Ferguson. He is joined by Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

Atlantis in High Bay 1 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer

Atlantis final journey to Launch Pad 39A. Credit: Ken Kremer

Atlantis final journey to Launch Pad 39A. Credit: Ken Kremer

Atlantis mated to External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters inside the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer

Atlantis Ready for Final Journey to Launch Pad 39A for STS-135 flight. Credit: Ken Kremer

Close up of the Atlantis Crew cabin. Credit: Ken Kremer

Atlantis exits the VAB on the crawler pathway to Pad 39 A. Thousands of KSC employees witness Atlantis final journey to the shuttle launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer


Ken Kremer with Space Shuttle Atlantis inside VAB High Bay 1. Credit: Ken Kremer

Photos from Alan Walters for Universe Today: awaltersphoto.com

Photos from Mike Deep for Universe Today

Read my prior features about the Final Shuttle mission, STS-135, here:
Atlantis Goes Vertical for the Last Time
Atlantis Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building with Final Space Shuttle Crew for July 8 Blastoff

Read my features about the final mission of Endeavour, STS 134, starting here
Era of Space Shuttle Endeavour Ends with June 1 landing at the Kennedy Space Center

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com

Tinker Bucksnort June 5, 2011 at 1:52 PM

You write: “Thousands of NASA and contractor employees and their families had been given special passes to witness the dramatic nighttime sojourn of Atlantis in a morale booster event..”

Morale booster? You must be joking. Watching the final mission unfold is like seeing your best friend dying in a hospice. How can that be a morale booster?

Jon Hanford June 5, 2011 at 6:33 PM

“How can that be a morale booster?”

I dunno, how about asking those who witnessed the final preparations and pad rollout of the Apollo 16 & 17 missions. Of course the crowds were smaller then, but it did not detract from the festive/melancholy atmosphere these last Apollo missions to the moon were invoked by those (and their family & friends) who worked on the program.

Thanks, Ken, for sharing some of you’re pics and commentary on these last few missions of the Shuttle program. They are greatly appreciated.

(Sure wish Apollo, Gemini, & Mercury had many more of these behind the scenes vignettes like the Shuttle program has generated)

Jacob Kuiper June 5, 2011 at 8:23 PM

Great Pctures Ken,
Impressive to see the Atlantis rolling out in darkness. I watched at NASA TV when | was on duty in the Met.Office in The Netherlands. So, even by your pictures it gives me a the feeling I was a bit at the VAB too that evening.
Thanks,

Jacob Kuiper

Rufus June 7, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!

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