The Final Countdown: Fueling the Anticipation

An update on my NASA Tweetup adventure…

The world will be watching - and tweeting! – when Atlantis launches on July 8
The launch of the space shuttle Atlantis is just a week away, and with it the NASA Tweetup event of a lifetime. (Well, my lifetime anyway!) But it’s not just me who’s been having visions of shuttle plumes dancing in his head… there’s 149 other space tweeps (yes, that’s what we call ourselves) who are eagerly counting the days, hours and minutes until then.

Here’s what some of them are saying…

“Wicked excited! (says the Boston gal – who yes, now lives in the Midwest!)” – Leslie Berg

“I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it….” – David Parmet

“This has been a dream of mine since the first launch. I was so sad when I was unable to attend STS-134 with the delays and so excited when I found out that I could at least see the last launch paid to change my plane ticket to NYC for summer.” Dvora Geller

“It’s an honor to be chosen by NASA to be a part of the last flight in shuttle history.” – Heather Smith

“NASA has continued to fill the history books with their profound and inspirational achievements. I can’t believe I’ll witness another significant page being written for that book, in person, up close, on July 8th!! Bring it!!” – Justin Boddey

With people attending the Tweetup from not only all over the US but also all around the world, this is an awesome representation of the international attention that the final launch is getting.

Also, after some scouting about for the right contact person (thanks Susan!) I managed to get in touch with the metro editor at the Dallas Morning News and he assigned a reporter to cover my story. I had a phone interview this afternoon with her, and the story should be published next Tuesday! In addition they want to feature my Tweets on the news site live from the launch…I sure hope the 3G signal coverage isn’t overwhelmed!

Anyway by this time next week I and 149 others from around the world will be preparing for a very exciting morning… it’s going to be crazy, I’m sure, but totally worth it!

Stay tuned….

“I spend several moments a day suppressing the urge to freak right out over the fact that I’m going to be as close to going into space as I’ve ever been. There’s also a 9 year old in my head screaming SPACE SHUTTLE! all the time. It’s really distracting. I feel so lucky.” – Nicole KT Winchester

“Since the day I found out I was selected to attend the Tweetup, it’s been on my mind every minute of every day. I’m basically trying not to die before July 7th.” – Andres Almeida

“I can pretty much guarantee my reaction to seeing a space shuttle live, in person, will be, ‘Whoah.’ Followed shortly by, ‘That’s pretty.'” – Kara DeFrias

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Jason Major is a graphic designer, photo enthusiast and space blogger. Visit his website Lights in the Dark and follow him on Twitter @JPMajor or on Facebook for the most up-to-date astronomy awesomeness!

The Final Countdown: A Tweetup Journal

The last space shuttle: Atlantis awaits its final launch. Credit: NASA

On July 8, less than a month from now, the last remaining space shuttle is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral. The STS-135 mission will bring supplies and parts up to the International Space Station and will be the historic conclusion of the 30-year-long shuttle program.

Unless otherwise rescheduled, at 11:40am on Friday, July 8, the big clock will count down, the rocket boosters will ignite, the steam will billow and the shuttle Atlantis will roar into the sky for one final, glorious time.

And I’ll be there.

(*exhale*)

Continue reading “The Final Countdown: A Tweetup Journal”

SpacePod: Tour of Atlantis and the Launchpad

Jason Rhian had the chance to see Atlantis up close and personal — both in the Vehicle Assembly Building and on the launchpad. Since this is the last shuttle to go through processing and rolling to the pad, his closeup shots are especially poignant. It’s been busy at KSC: within a thirteen-hour period Kennedy Space Center saw the final rollout of the shuttle program as Atlantis headed to Launch Complex 39A, the final landing of space shuttle Endeavour as well as Endeavour’s tow back to her OPF. And inclement weather played a role, too. Jason said, “This was an amazing couple of days, a real whirlwind of activity. I, like many, am both thrilled and saddened to be covering such an important historical milestone.”

Additional Shuttle Mission Almost Guaranteed

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For some time now there have been rumors and speculation that there will be an additional flight added to the two currently remaining on the shuttle manifest. With the passage of the Senate 2010 NASA Authorization Act (S. 3729) the mission which would be STS-135 – is now all but a certainty. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Senate bill on a 304 to118 vote. The final hurdle will be the president signing the act into law. From all accounts however, as this bill largely supports the president’s agenda, this should not be a problem and STS-135 should launch during the summer of next year.

The orbiter that will likely fly this mission will be Atlantis, the workhorse of the shuttle fleet. For all intents-and-purposes STS-132, which flew this past May, was the last scheduled mission for Atlantis. However, mission managers were looking at either Discovery or Atlantis to fly the possible STS-135 mission. With Atlantis back at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) since May, the orbiter has had more processing time and it would be easier to prepare for launch.

The crew for this mission has already been selected. The crew will be comprised of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim. All of these astronauts are space shuttle veterans. Currently they are training under the STS-335 designation which is a “Launch-On-Need” (LON) mission. In the event of an emergency on STS-134, Atlantis would launch to rescue the crew members. There have been LON missions for each post-Columbia flight.

“Having an additional shuttle flight will keep the national treasure we have in the space station very well situated in consumables and supplies, said Lori Garver, NASA’s Deputy Administrator, during a media briefing on Thursday. “I don’t see it as either a luxury or necessity, it us just making good use of a resource and doing it in a safe manner.”

If all goes well on the STS-134 mission, STS-335 will be converted to STS-135 and its mission will change from rescue – to resupply. If this does take place, the payload for this mission will be the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) and a Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier (LMC).

STS-135 will be a resupply mission used to keep the International Space Station as well-stocked as possible when the shuttle program ends. Photo Credit: NASA

Outside of the fact that it will be the last mission of the shuttle program, the mission also bears one other distinction. With a crew of four, this is the smallest contingent of astronauts to launch on a space shuttle since STS-6 back in April of 1983.

The rationale behind such a small crew is two-fold. A smaller crew will allow NASA to maximize the amount of payload that is sent to the International Space Station (ISS). The weight of two or three extra astronauts will now go to additional supplies that can be flown to the ISS. In the event that STS-135 itself runs into trouble while on-orbit, the smaller crew would also allow for a rescue by the Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft.

The ISS will more than likely be on-orbit until 2020 and possibly beyond. As such it was viewed as essential that as much supplies as possible were ferried to and stored on the orbiting outpost. The Rafaello MPLM will be maxed out with 16 resupply racks, the most the cargo container can handle, for this mission. The LMC will carry a new coolant pump. The External Thermal Cooling System (ECTS) Pump Module (PM) which dramatically failed recently and was swapped out by spacewalkers Tracy Caldwell-Dyson and Doug Wheelock last month.

Atlantis Crew ‘Riding Inside a Fireball’

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At a post-landing news conference, STS-132 commander Ken Ham described the incredible visual effects the crew of Atlantis witnessed as they returned to Earth today. As the shuttle was engulfed in plasma during the hottest part of their re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere, they were in orbital darkness, which highlighted the orange, fiery glow around the shuttle. “We were clearly riding inside of a fireball, and we flew right into the sunrise from inside this fireball, so we could see the blue color of the Earth’s horizon coming through the orange. It was amazing and just visually overwhelming.”

As evidence, ISS astronaut Soichi Noguchi captured Atlantis as that fireball, streaking though atmosphere, just as dawn approached. “Dawn, and Space Shuttle re-entered atmosphere over Pacific Ocean. 32 years of service, 32nd beautiful landing. Forever, Atlantis!” Noguchi wrote on Twitter, posting a link to the image.

Amazing.

Asked about his thoughts after landing, Ham said, “Walking around Atlantis after the flight I realized I probably just did the most fun and amazing thing I’ll do in my life.”

As for Atlantis, and whether she’ll fly one more time, the latest word is that the NASA authorization bill — as it stand now –will include language authorizing an additional shuttle mission.

As for Noguchi, take in all the images you can now from him on his Twitter feed, He, along with Expedition 23 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov, and astronaut T.J. Creamer are scheduled to leave the ISS on the Soyuz spacecraft on June 1 and land on the southern region steppe of Kazakhstan, completing almost six months on the station.

Here’s an image Noguchi took of Atlantis just after it undocked from the ISS last weekend.

Atlantis, as seen by Soichi Noguchi from the ISS, after undocking. Credit: Soichi Noguchi/ JAXA/ NASA

Atlantis Returns Home — For the Last Time?

A bittersweet moment in space history as Atlantis and her six-member crew landed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday morning. Very likely, this was Atlantis’ final landing, returning home after 25 years of service. The rich history of the Atlantis space shuttle includes 294 days in space, 4,648 orbits and 120,650,907 miles during 32 flights. There’s a chance this orbiter could fly again – she’ll be readied as a rescue ship for the last scheduled shuttle mission –and many shuttle supporters feel that since Atlantis will be fully geared up, she should fly one last time. But only time (and funding and Congress) will tell if Atlantis will fly again.
Continue reading “Atlantis Returns Home — For the Last Time?”

Incredible Image: Atlantis and ISS Transit the Sun

Here are some incredible images of Atlantis and the International Space Station captured as it transit the Sun.

You can also view space from where you are. You just need a good telescope for that. Take a look at these cool and amazing telescopes from Amazon.com.

French astrophotographer Thierry Legault has done it again. He captured a view of space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station crossing the face of the Sun on May 16, 2010 about 50 minutes before the shuttle docked with the space station. Legault took the image from Madrid, Spain at 13:28:55 UT. “Atlantis has just begun the ‘R-bar pitch maneuver,'” Legault wrote on his website, “as the shuttle performs a backflip that exposes its heat-shield to the crew of the ISS that makes photographs of it; since its approach trajectory is between the ISS and the Earth, this means that we are seeing Atlantis essentially from above, with the payload bay door opened.”

Since this may be Atlantis’ last flight to space, the image is especially poignant.

See below for the full image, and make sure you go to Legault’s website and watch the movie of how quickly the pair of spacecraft actually flew across the face of the Sun — like the blink of an eye! It’s amazing he was able to capture this incredible image at all, not to mention how clear and sharp the two spacecraft are in the photo, against the face of the otherwise spotless Sun. The shuttle’s tail is even visible!

Legault said he used a Takahashi TOA-150 refractor (diameter 150mm, final focal 2500mm), Baader Herschel prism and Canon 5D Mark II camera, at an exposure of 1/8000s at 100 ISO, extracted from a series of 16 images (4 images/s) started 2 seconds before the predicted transit time.

Full image of the Sun, with transiting shuttle and ISS. Credit: Thierry Legault www.astrophoto.fr

Take time to browse through Legault’s impressive collection of spacecraft photography, including an amazing 3-D movie of the ISS.

Atlantis Launch Gallery

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Here’s a gallery of images from the last scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis, taken by Universe Today photographer Alan Walters (check out his website!), writer Ken Kremer, and a few from NASA. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful launch. But was it really Atlantis’ last? Only time will tell, but for now enjoy these great images.

The STS-132 crew walkout. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Photographers vie for position at the crew walkout location. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
Birds take flight along with Atlantis. Image credit: Alan Walters for Universe Today.
Atlantis goes into the roll program during the STS-132 launch. Credit: Alan Walters for Universe Today
Ken Kremer captured this gorgeous image of Atlantis' launch. Credit: Ken Kremer
A crowd of media and Twitterers watch the launch from the Kennedy Space Center Press site. Credit: NASA
A close-up of Atlantis during launch. Credit: NASA
Another view of the launch from KSC. Credit: NASA

For larger versions of the NASA images, see the STS-132 gallery on NASA’s Human Spaceflight website. We’ll keep you updated on the status of the mission.

Atlantis Launches Successfully on Last Scheduled Flight (Video)


Atlantis launched successfully, and beautifully, on its final scheduled voyage to space Friday at 2:20 pm EDT (1820 GMT). The shuttle and its six astronauts will deliver 3,000 pounds of U.S. supplies, including food and laptop computers to the International Space Station. and — for the first (at last) time — bring a Russian module to the station. The 12-day mission will include 3 spacewalks for that will focus on storing spare components outside the station, including six batteries, a communications antenna and parts for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm.

But will it be the final flight of Atlantis? “We like to call this the first last flight of Atlantis,” said commander Ken Ham in a preflight news conference. Since Atlantis will be ready to go as a rescue ship for the currently schedule final flight of the shuttle program (for the post-Columbia Launch On Need mission), many have said it should be flown.
Continue reading “Atlantis Launches Successfully on Last Scheduled Flight (Video)”

Gallery: Atlantis Rolls Towards Last Launch

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What a beautiful shot! Universe Today photographer Alan Walters had the opportunity to be inside the Vehicle Assembly Building early this morning (12 am EDT) as space shuttle Atlantis began her slow crawl to launchpad 39A, in what is scheduled to be her last flight. If everything goes as planned, STS-132 will launch on May 14 at 2:19 p.m. EDT (6:19 GMT). While Alan had a great view from inside the VAB (see more below), he wasn’t the only one with a unique vantage point. The six-member crew of STS-132 got to ride along on the crawler-transporter during the 6-miles trek to the pad. “Riding the crawler last night was absolutely fantastic,” said commander Ken Ham. He said the crawler, powered by destroyer engines, reminded him of a Navy ship even though it moves across gravel instead of rolling waves. “It is incredible to see that battleship on the ground.”

See more positively stunning rollout images from Alan, below.

Atlantis in the VAB before rollout. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Another great shot of Atlantis in the VAB. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Yes, people really are that small compared to the shuttle crawler! Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis out the door of the VAB. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Beautiful night-time view of the VAB, reflecting in the water. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis' reflection in the water. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis at the pad early on April 22, 2010. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis at the pad. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
The crew of STS-132 ready for the TCDT test. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

The crew of STS-132 was at the pad early this morning, getting ready to conduct the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, a simulation of the countdown and other events to prepare the crew for launch. The crew includes, (L-R) Commander Ken Ham, Pilot Tony Antonelli, Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman and Michael Good, and Mission Specialists Steve Bowen and Piers Sellers.

Stay tuned for more great images by Alan Walters from upcoming events and launches from KSC.