Space Shuttle Atlantis soared to space for one last history-making time today July 8 at 11:29 a.m. despite a gloomy weather forecast, low lying clouds and a last moment countdown glitch that threatened to derail the launch in the closing seconds – but ultimately all coalesced and combined for an unpredictably tense drama that went down to the wire and put on a heart pounding and spectacular sky show.
About 750,000 spectators jammed the Florida space coast beaches, roadways and motels to witness a historic event that we will never see again.
A hole in the sky miraculously appeared above the Kennedy Space Center and with just 58 seconds remaining in the launch window, NASA launch managers lit Atlantis engines and the shuttle stack thundered to life and vaulted off Launch Pad 39 A on 7 million pounds of thrust for NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission.
“What a truly awesome day today,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier at the STS-135 post launch news conference for reporters. ” We got to witness something really, really special and something really amazing. I’m really talking about the teams and the people who supported the launch that just occurred. What you saw is the finest launch team and shuttle preparation teams in the world.”
“It truly was an awesome, spectacular launch,” added Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.
“We’re really looking forward to a great mission. This is a very critical mission for station resupply. We’re going to do our best to try and stretch out an extra day,” said Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager and chairman of the pre-mission Mission Management Team Mike Moses. “I think the shuttle program is ending exactly as it should. We’ve built the International Space Station, we’re stocking it up for the future, and ready to hand it off, and we finish really, really strong.”
“On behalf of the launch team, and all the thousands of people here at KSC, we’re just very, very proud that we finished strong from the launch perspective,” added Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.
“A lot of us walked around and shook everybody’s hand,” Leinbach told reporters at the packed press conference. “It seemed like we didn’t want to leave, it was like the end of a party and you just don’t want to go, you just want to hang around a little bit longer and relish our friends and what we accomplished. It was very special, lots of pats on the back today.”
Universe Today is covering the Grand Finale of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. This report and photo album will be updated later.
Send Ken your STS-135 launch photos to publish here.
Photos from Mike Deep and David Gonzales for Universe Today
Read my features about the Final Shuttle mission, STS-135, here:
Atlantis Unveiled for Historic Final Flight amidst Stormy Weather
Counting down to the Last Shuttle; Stormy weather projected
Atlantis Crew Jets to Florida on Independence Day for Final Shuttle Blastoff
NASA Sets July 8 for Mandatory Space Shuttle Grand Finale
Final Shuttle Voyagers Conduct Countdown Practice at Florida Launch Pad
Final Payload for Final Shuttle Flight Delivered to the Launch Pad
Last Ever Shuttle Journeys out to the Launch Pad; Photo Gallery
Atlantis Goes Vertical for the Last Time
Atlantis Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building with Final Space Shuttle Crew for July 8 Blastoff
Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now, Science 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, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight – www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter