Has it been three years already? The last mission of the space shuttle program launched on this day in 2011. We’ve included some of the most beautiful NASA images from the final flight of Atlantis.
But we’re also interested in publishing photos from Universe Today readers! If you attended STS-135 or any other launch of the space shuttle program, we’d like to hear from you. More details below the jump.
The mission’s major goal was to heft a multipurpose logistics module into space, as well as a bunch of spare parts that would be difficult to ship after the space shuttle retired. But it also served as a point of remembrance for the thousands of workers who constructed and maintained the shuttle, and the millions of people who watched its flights.
Where were you during that flight? What pictures did you take? Let us know in the comments and if you’d like to see your images published in a future Universe Today story, share your photos in our Flickr group. The photos must belong to you and be free to share. While this story focuses on STS-135, pictures from any shuttle launch or event are welcome. Let us know which one it was!
To kick off the memories, I’ll talk about where I was during the launch: I was on my way to a wedding in Toronto, Canada — five hours away from my hometown of Ottawa. I managed to pull into a parking lot just a few minutes before the launch sequence started.
I tried and tried to get a steady signal for video, but my phone was having none of it, so I instead “watched” the launch on Twitter. Luckily for me, friends were tweeting and sending text updates from watching television or in person, so I didn’t miss a thing. Then a couple of days later, my best friend and I both watched the NASA launch video together for the first time.
Two years after space shuttle Atlantis launched into space, it’s still looking like it returned from a long journey. It “bears the scars, scorch marks and space dust of its last mission,” writes the Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Center.
That’s deliberate, though. In late June, visitors to the Orlando-area attraction got the chance to get nose-to-nose with this orbiter in a new exhibit. Atlantis, unlike similar exhibits of other shuttles so far, is perched on a precise 43.21-degree angle to give a view previously afforded only to astronauts.
The $100 million, 90,000-square-foot exhibit also has an International Space Station gallery, a simulated shuttle launch ride, and training simulators for landing, space station docking and moving the robotic Canadarm.
This weekend, the five Canadians involved in the production opened an IndieGoGo campaign online to crowdsource $15,000 from the masses. (IndieGoGo is a similar service to Kickstarter, but unlike Kickstarter, it accepts banking information from outside of the United States.)
“We’ve gone from a small road trip doc to sitting before astronauts like Chris Hadfield, and now actors such as Wil Wheaton,” wrote team member Matthew Cimone in a statement sent to Universe Today.
“The whole film, to date, has been completely self funded, but to assist in the final post-production push, we are launching an IndieGoGo campaign.”
The team says the money is not supposed to recover the whole cost of the project, but just the final stages of it. They plan to use the money for additional on-location shooting as well as post-production costs such as sound design, colour grading, research assistance and an original score.
You can view the fundraising campaign here. Potential contributors have until Dec. 17 to donate, and the team will receive all of the money donated even if they do not reach their goal.
Shuttle Atlantis as it enters the Vehicle Assembly Building (Ryan Horan.)
Take five shuttle fans and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, mix in some artistic creativity, and you will understand the enthusiasm and love behind the Chasing Atlantisfilm production.
Five Canadians made the trek to Florida to watch the final shuttle launch last year. They are wrapping up filming and interviews — which included astronauts and sci-fi stars — to discuss the legacy of the program.
They plan to release Chasing Atlantis in November. Team member Matthew Cimone talked to Universe Today by e-mail about why they made the journey in the first place.
UT: What is your connection to space?
There were five of us in total. Matthew Cimone, Paul Muzzin, Melanie Godecki, Chris Bourque and Rebecca Mead. We ranged from total space geeks and sci-fi junkies to those who were simply interested in being part of an adventurous road trip.
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:
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).
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.
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!
It’s been over a week since the NASA Tweetup and I’m still thinking about it. For good reason, of course… it was awesome.
Over the course of two days I saw a capsule that had been to space and back, talked with five astronauts (one currently in orbit!), toured Kennedy Space Center, met a muppet, touched a piece of the Moon, made dozens of new friends and, of course, watched, heard and felt the launch of the last space shuttle to leave Earth. (And managed to talk my way into a delicious barbecue sandwich inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.) All with less than six hours of sleep.
Videographers David Gonzales, Kurt Johnson and Mike Deep filmed the final launch of the Space Shuttle from the Kennedy Space Center Press Site. The team used multiple cameras along with a high definition stereo audio recording device to capture the sights and sounds as Atlantis thundered into orbit. The goal was to provide the closest launch experience for the viewer without actually being there.
A Space Shuttle launch is a spectacle that will never again be seen. The sequence begins with a tight shot of the pad in the final seconds of the count. As the 3 Space Shuttle Main Engines ignite they flash water from the sound suppression water system into steam, sending a plume billowing away. The entire stack rocks a couple of feet before settling back vertical. The Solid Rocket boosters ignite, launching out a second plume and lifting the 4.5 million pound stack off the ground. Spectators erupt into cheers and the shutters of thousands of press cameras click away.
Friday July 8, 2011 was a significant historic day for NASA – one that will go down in history as the day of the final space shuttle launch. Here are a few of the historic “last” words spoken by the launch control team and the astronauts just before Atlantis headed off into history, as well as words from some other notable folks after the launch:
Launch director Mike Leinbach always has some final words to tell the astronauts awaiting on the launch pad that the launch team has all given a “go” for launch. Here’s his send-off:
“OK, Fergie, (commander Chris Ferguson) we’re starting to feel pretty good here on the ground about this one today, so on behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon. And so for the final time, Fergie, Doug, Sandy and Rex, good luck, Godspeed and have a little fun up there.”
In reply, Ferguson said, “Hey, thanks to you and your team, Mike and until the very end, you all made it look easy. The shuttle’s always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We’re not ending the journey today, Mike, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. You and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls and their lives to the cause of exploration. Let’s light this fire one more time, Mike, and witness this nation at its best.”
Another very touching send-off was from the members of the close-out crew at the launchpad, who held up a series of signs in front of the camera in the white room that gave this message:
“On behalf of all who have designed and built…
Serviced & loaded… launched & controlled…
Operated & flown these magnificent space vehicles…
Thanks for 30 years with our nations’ space shuttles
God bless America”
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden released a video statement after the launch:
US President Barack Obama released his own statement after the launch. (Not the reference to going to Mars, which may be the most direct statement made by a president about the US space program intending to go to the Red Planet):
“Today, Americans across the country watched with pride as four of our fellow citizens blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and America reached for the heavens once more.
Behind Atlantis and her crew of brave astronauts stand thousands of dedicated workers who have poured their hearts and souls into America’s Space Shuttle program over the past three decades. To them and all of NASA’s incredible workforce, I want to express my sincere gratitude. You helped our country lead the space age, and you continue to inspire us each day.
“Today’s launch may mark the final flight of the Space Shuttle, but it propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space. We’ll drive new advances in science and technology. We’ll enhance knowledge, education, innovation, and economic growth. And I have tasked the men and women of NASA with an ambitious new mission: to break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars. I know they are up to the challenge – and I plan to be around to see it.
Congratulations to Atlantis, her astronauts, and the people of America’s space program on a picture-perfect launch, and good luck on the rest of your mission to the International Space Station, and for a safe return home. I know the American people share my pride at what we have accomplished as a nation, and my excitement about the next chapter of our preeminence in space.”
Do you have any last words for the space shuttle program?
Space shuttle Atlantis has launched for the final time, for the last mission of the space shuttle program. The crew of four is heading to the International Space Station. Launch occurred at 10:29 EDT (15:29 UTC), and despite an unfavorable weather forecast, Atlantis and her crew beat the 30% odds that was predicted for the probability of launch. There was a slight delay and a hold in the countdown (about 2 minutes) when a problem with the vent arm retraction on the launchpad (the “beanie cap” over the external tank) was detected. The launch control team was able to look at the issue, and determined it was safe to proceed with launch.
Our team of writers and photographers will provide more details and images, soon, (we’ve heard the communications at KSC are completely bogged down).
As for the future, NASA’s Chief Technologist Bobby Braun may have said it best via Twitter: “This is not the end of human spaceflight. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
And the STS-135 mission is just beginning as well. We’ll provide full coverage of the final space shuttle mission for the next two weeks.