A Space Shuttle On the Sun, One Last Time

by Nancy Atkinson on July 22, 2011

Atlantis crosses the face of the Sun July 21st 2011 at 08:27:48 UT, just 21 minutes before the shuttle's deorbit burn to return to Earth. Credit: Thierry Legault.

If you’re like me, you were probably wondering if photographer Thierry Legault would have the opportunity to photograph space shuttle Atlantis in orbit during the final mission of the shuttle program. Regular UT readers will recall that Legault has taken several amazing images of the space shuttle and International Space Station from the ground with his specialized equipment, with many spectacular views of the spacecraft transiting across the face of the Sun or the Moon. It took a mad dash across Europe, but he was successful in chasing down the shuttle, capturing it crossing the face of the Sun several times, and once — just in the nick of time (above) — just minutes before the Atlantis’ final deorbit burn.

“I went to Czech Republik, then Germany and now I’m in Netherlands, on my way back to Paris,” Legault said in a note he sent to Universe Today. “The last transit has been taken Thursday morning, just 21 minutes before the deorbit burn, therefore there are chances that is the last image of a space shuttle in orbit.”

Earlier in the mission, he was able to catch the ISS and shuttle just 50 minutes after Atlantis undocked from the station, so his images capture historic moments of the final shuttle mission.

In addition, this stunning view shows Atlantis docked to the ISS:

Atlantis during the STS-135 mission docked to the International Space Station, July 15, 2011. Credit: Thierry Legault.

Legault said this solar transit of Atlantis docked to the ISS was taken on July 15th from France (Caen, Normandy). Transit duration: 0.7s. ISS distance to observer: 520 km. Speed in orbit: 7.5km/s (27000 km/h or 17000 mph).

Atlantis appears on four images as it crossed the Sun, in this composite image. Credit: Thierry Legault. Click for larger version

Four images of Atlantis crossing the face of the Sun taken on July 21st 2011 at 08:27:48 UT, and combined into one image. The images were taken just 21 minutes before Atlantis’ deorbit burn, from the area of Emden, NW Germany. Transit duration: 0.9s. Distance to observer: 566 km. Speed in orbit: 7.8 km/s.

A Calsky image below shows the last miles of Atlantis in orbit with the transit site in Europe, the deorbit burn position and the landing site in Florida. Image courtesy Thierry Legault.

Atlantis and the ISS side by side, 50 minutes after undocking. Credit: Theirry Legault. Click for larger version, and full version of the Sun's face.

Solar transit taken on July 19th at 7:17 UT from Czech Republik (North of Praha), showing Atlantis and the ISS side by side, 50 minutes after undocking. Transit duration: 1s. ISS distance to observer: 676 km.

Many thanks to Thierry Legault for sharing his images with Universe Today, and taking us along on the ride of his travels across Europe to capture the final space shuttle mission in a way that only he can!

See more at Thierry Legault’s website.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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