The four astronauts who will fly the Grand Finale of NASA’s space shuttle program arrived at the Florida launch site on Independence Day on a wave of T-38 training jets. The veteran crew flew into the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) from Ellington Field in Houston, Texas and touched down at the shuttle landing strip at about 2:30 p.m. EDT.
Blast off of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission is slated for July 8 at 11.26 a.m. with Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson at the helm. He is joined by Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.
Upon landing in the sweltering Florida heat, the astronauts were welcomed by Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach as well as other NASA/KSC officials and a large crowd of media. Many waved US flags in honor of the July 4th Independence Day holiday.
“I think I speak for the whole crew in that we are delighted to be here after a very arduous nine month training flow and we’re thrilled to finally be here in Florida for launch week,” said Ferguson. “This is a day that’s decidedly American, a day where we kind of reflect on our independence and all the wonderful things that we really have as part of being the United States of America. I think it’s wonderful you’ve all come out to join us.”
“We have a very event-filled mission ahead of us, we have 12 days, we’ll be very, very busy,” Ferguson added. “When it’s all over, we’ll be very proud to put the right-hand bookend on the space shuttle program.”
The quartet will spend the next few days completing final prelaunch training to prepare for their planned 12 day flight bound for the International Space Station.
The primary cargo is the Raffaello Multipurpose Logistics module built in Italy and jam packed with some five tons of spare parts, science gear, food, water, clothing and more that will be transferred to the station by the station and shuttle crews and are absolutely essential to keep the orbiting outpost operating over the next year.
About 2000 journalists and photographers are expected to cover Atlantis’s launch, the largest media gathering for a shuttle launch since the Return to Flight in 2005 – that’s about twice the media here for the last launch of Endeavour in April.
The countdown clock begins ticking at 1 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 5
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The “Final Four” shuttle astronauts who will ever voyage to Earth orbit aboard a NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter jetted into the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) this week for their final simulated countdown training at the seaside Florida Launch Pad.
The all veteran crew for the STS-135 mission arrived at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on twin T-38 jets for four days of comprehensive flight training for what’s known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT). Along with all other shuttle flight related activities, it’s the very last time this training will ever occur.
The TCDT is part of the ritual of training for all shuttle crews that takes place in the last few weeks preceding a liftoff and that concludes with a full countdown dress rehearsal from inside Atlantis at the launch pad.
Chris Ferguson is leading the STS-135 mission and he will be recorded in history as the final Space Shuttle Commander. This will be Ferguson’s third shuttle flight and second one as Commander. Also aboard are Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.
The quartet of space flyers are due to blast off aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 8 at 11:26 a.m. EDT for the “Grand Finale” of NASA’s thirty year old Space Shuttle Program. If all goes according to plan the end of the Shuttle Era is less than 1 month away.
It’s a bittersweet moment for everyone working on the shuttle program. Proud to be part of a magnificent adventure with the most complicated machine ever built by humans, but simultaneously sad that the program is ending well before its true flight time is up and with no concrete timetable to replace the trio of majestic spaceships.
“We are incredibly proud to represent this, the final flight,” said STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson after touchdown to dozens and dozens of journalists gathered at the shuttle landing strip to greet the astronauts.
“I speak on behalf of the crew, everyone in the astronaut office, and I’m sure everybody here at KSC in saying that we are just trying to savor the moment,” Ferguson added. “As our children and our children’s children ask us, we want to be able to say, ‘We remember when there was a space shuttle.”
The first order of business for Ferguson and Hurley was to practice shuttle landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA), which is a modified Gulfstream II jet.
During the TCDT period, the crew engaged in mission briefings at the Launch Control Center which is the brain of shuttle launch operations, payload familiarization and training at the Space Station Processing Facility, fire suppression training, range safety and security briefings and emergency escape training in an M113 armored personnel carrier near Launch Pad 39A. Read more in my upcoming features.
On the last day of TCDT, the astronauts donned their orange launch and entry suits, journeyed to the pad in the Astrovan and were strapped to their assigned seated inside the orbiter exactly as will occur on launch day for a full dress rehearsal of the launch countdown.
The crew also met with over 100 reporters for a Q & A session at the base of Launch Pad 39A which was back dropped by a thrilling view of Shuttle Atlantis atop the Mobile Launch Platform and the gigantic Flame Duct which directs the rocket exhaust way from the shuttle stack during launch.
“We’re very honored to be in this position,” Ferguson said to reporters at the foot of the pad. “There are many people who could be here. When the dice fell our names were facing up. We consider ourselves fortunate and lucky.”
“I think each of us feels a little extra burden to make sure we put on the best possible face forward for the last go around of this. The crew’s very prepared and we’re going to do a fantastic job.”
“I don’t think that the full magnitude of the moment will really hit us until the wheels have stopped on the runway,” said Ferguson, reflecting on the significance of the grand finale of all shuttle missions. “I’m not sure words will really be able to capture for the crew and for the entire shuttle workforce just how much the shuttle program has meant to us for the last 30 years.”
“TDCT is very comprehensive, hands on and invaluable training at the place you’re going to do it,” said Hurley. “Everything is a just a little bit different when you are in the real vehicle so this is a great way to get you ready for launch day – when it counts!”
Tucked inside Atlantis cargo bay is the Italian- built “Raffaello” logistics module, the primary payload. Raffaello is loaded full with some five tons of critical spare parts, crew supplies and science experiments that will be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) during the 12 day flight.
The secondary payload is the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) which will demonstrate tools and techniques to refuel satellites in orbit.
“Sandy Magnus is our ‘transfer czar’ in charge of emptying and filling Raffaello,” said Ferguson. Magnus is an ideal choice for the mission since she lived for months aboard the orbiting outpost and is familiar with its nook and crannies.
“We feel very honored to be on this flight and are very focused to perform it well,” said Magnus. “We are just the tip of the iceberg of a huge group of people who plan and get the hardware ready and prepare all our procedures.”
“I often think about how we will launch from the exact same launch pad that Apollo 11 launched at to go to the moon. It gives you goose bumps,” said Walheim.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – For the last time in history, Atlantis and the shuttle program have literally gone vertical. Following the rollover of Atlantis into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the orbiter was attached to a massive crane and then hoisted and mated to the External Tank and twin Solid Rocket boosters that will power her 25th and last climb to orbit.
Myself and a small band of lucky photo journalists were privileged to witness this milestone on the way to blastoff of the STS-135 mission, the last one of the three decade long shuttle era. Check out a selection of my images in this photo album for Universe Today readers. I’ll post a few now and more later as Atlantis prepares to rollout to Launch Pad 39 A.
The STS-135 mission remains on target for liftoff on July 8 at about 11:40 a.m. EDT on a 12 day flight to deliver critical parts, science experiments, gear, crew supplies and provisions to the International Space Station (ISS).
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The end of NASA’s shuttle era has begun as pre-launch preparations for the final shuttle flight by Space Shuttle Atlantis kicked into high gear. The STS-135 mission is set to launch on July 8 at about 11:40 a.m. EDT on a 12 day flight.
Shuttle Atlantis has been moved about a quarter of a mile from its pre-launch processing hanger – known as Orbiter Processing Facility-1 (OPF-1) – to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Check out our eyewitness photo album herein.
The four person crew of STS-135 was on hand to meet and greet and thank the big crowd of NASA managers and shuttle workers who are preparing Atlantis for the final spaceflight of the Space Shuttle Program after three decades of flight.
Atlantis’ crew comprises of Shuttle Commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Douglas Hurley and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandra Magnus.
More than a hundred photo journalists representing media worldwide gathered to watch this historic event – known as “rollover”. I had a chance to briefly speak and shake hands with Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson and wish the crew good luck.
Under a gorgeous clear blue sky, Atlantis was hauled to the VAB – while bolted atop a 78 wheeled transporter – a key milestone setting a clear path to blastoff. Inside the VAB, the orbiter is mated to the external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters before rolling out to Launch Pad 39 A in about two weeks.
Midway through the road trip, Atlantis was parked for several hours to allow KSC employees to pose for photo opportunities with the flight ready orbiter for the last time.
The goal of Atlantis mission is to carry the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module (MPLM) to the International Space Station (ISS) and stock up the orbiting outpost with science equipment, crew supplies, food, water, logistics, gear and spare parts before the shuttles are retired forever at the prime of their lifetime.