Two Veteran NASA Astronauts Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa Inducted into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at KSC

Two veteran retired NASA astronauts – Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa – were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 19, 2017 during induction ceremony held below Space Shuttle Atlantis in the display pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX, FL – In a moving ceremony, a pair of veteran NASA astronauts – Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa – who once flew together on a space shuttle mission, were inducted into the U. S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida, on May 19.

Between them, Foale and Ochoa flew to space a combined total of ten times – 6 for Foale and 4 for Ochoa.

They flew together as crewmates on the STS-56 space shuttle mission aboard Space Shuttle Discovery which launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on 8 April 1993.

The nine day STS-56 mission was Ochoa’s rookie flight and Foale’s second flight. It was the second of the shuttle’s ATLAS series of Earth science missions – dubbed Atlas-2 – whose purpose was to study the atmosphere and solar interactions.

“I was so happy to hear he and I were going to be inducted together,” Ochoa said during her acceptance speech. “He’d already had one mission and he passed along all kinds of helpful information that helped a rookie like me know where to focus and hopefully not be too surprised when the flight happened. Because being surprised in space is really not a good thing, as Mike found out.”

Ellen Ochoa counts as the first Hispanic woman to travel to space and currently serves as the 11th director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Michael Foale counts as the only U.S. astronaut to serve on both the International Space Station (ISS) and Russian space station Mir.

Foale was on board Mir in June 1997 during one of the worst disasters in space when an out of control unmanned Russian Progress cargo ship collided with the station’s Spektr module causing its air depressurization and sent Mir tumbling and rolling. He and his two Russian crewmates rapidly went into action to seal the leak, to stabilize and save Mir and themselves. He spent four months on Mir during the Mir 23 and Mir 24 missions.

The induction ceremony was held in a truly magnificent setting below NASA’s retired Space Shuttle Atlantis orbiter now on permanent display in a dedicated pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

Two veteran NASA astronauts joined the ranks of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to travel to space and current JSC Director, and Michael Foale, the only U.S. astronaut to serve on both the International Space Station and Russian space station Mir. Credit: NASA

Ochoa and Foale joined the ranks of 93 prestigious American space heroes who have previously received the same honor over the years since the U. S. Astronaut Hall of Fame was established in its current incarnation more than 30 years ago by the founders of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts.

The new duo comprise the 16th group of space shuttle astronauts to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Thus the Astronaut Hall of Fame now numbers 95 heroic and famous space explorers.

Foale and Ochoa unveiled their new ‘Hall of Fame’ commemorative plaques during the ceremony.

The plaques will be put on public display for all to see where they will join the others at the new U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF) pavilion – which had its Grand Opening in November 2016 as part of the new Heroes & Legends attraction located at the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded more than $4 million in merit-based scholarships to more than 400 brilliant students since its inception.

Group shot of 21 NASA astronauts posing with the two new NASA astronauts – Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa – who were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 19, 2017 during induction ceremony held below Space Shuttle Atlantis in the display pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Some 21 legendary NASA astronauts were on hand for the induction ceremony, including: Robert Cabana, Dan Brandenstein, Al Worden, Charlie Duke, Karol “Bo” Bobko, Brian Duffy, Scott Altman, Michael Bloomfield, Charles Bolden, Ken Bowersox, Curtis Brown, Michael Coats, Robert Crippen, Sam Durrance, Robert Gibson, Fred Gregory, Rhea Seddon, Brewster Shaw, Loren Shriver, Kathryn Thornton, and James Wetherbee.

Two veteran retired NASA astronauts – Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa – were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 19, 2017 and show their medals to the media after induction ceremony held below Space Shuttle Atlantis in the display pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here is a description of their space flight accomplishments from NASA:

“Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She joined Johnson in 1990, when she was selected as an astronaut candidate. After completing astronaut training, she served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, conducting atmospheric studies to better understand the effect of solar activity on Earth’s climate and environment.

Ochoa has flown in space four times, including the STS-66, STS-96 and STS-110 missions, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. She is Johnson’s first Hispanic director and its second female director. She also has served as the center’s deputy director and director of Flight Crew Operations.”

“Foale, whose hometown is Cambridge, England, earned a doctorate in laboratory astrophysics from the University of Cambridge, Queens’ College. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Foale was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1987. Before his first spaceflight, he tested shuttle flight software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory simulator.

Foale was a crew member on six space missions, including STS-45, STS-56, STS-63, STS-84, STS-103 and Soyuz TMA-3. During STS-84, he helped reestablish the Russian Space Station Mir after it was degraded by a collision and depressurization. Foale logged more than 374 days in space, including four spacewalks totaling 22 hours and 44 minutes.

Foale also served as chief of the Astronaut Office Expedition Corps, assistant director (technical) of Johnson, and deputy associate administrator for exploration operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. His last assignment at Johnson was as chief of the Soyuz Branch, Astronaut Office, supporting Soyuz and International Space Station operations and space suit development. Foale retired from NASA in 2013.”

Read this description of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Process and Eligibility:

“Each year, inductees are selected by a committee of Hall of Fame astronauts, former NASA officials, flight directors, historians and journalists. The process is administered by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. To be eligible, an astronaut must have made his or her first flight at least 17 years before the induction. Candidates must be a U.S. citizen and a NASA-trained commander, pilot or mission specialist who has orbited the earth at least once.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Grand opening ceremony for the ‘Heroes and Legends’ attraction on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and attended by more than 25 veteran and current NASA astronauts. It includes the new home of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, presented by Boeing. In addition to displays honoring the 93 Americans currently enshrined in the hall, the facility looks back to the pioneering efforts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. It provides the background and context for space exploration and the legendary men and women who pioneered the nation’s journey into space. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Spaceflight Will Give You The Body Of An Elderly Alcoholic Shut In

At least, that was what the results of a recent study conducted by the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus suggest. After examining a group of test mice that spent two weeks in space aboard STS-135 – the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program – they concluded that spending prolonged periods of time in space could in fact result liver damage.

For some time now, scientists have understood that exposure to zero-gravity or micro-gravity environments comes with its share of health effects. But so far, the research has been largely confined to other areas of the human body. Understanding the effects it has on internal organs and other aspects of one’s health are of extreme importance as NASA begins preparations for a crewed mission to Mars.

Continue reading “Spaceflight Will Give You The Body Of An Elderly Alcoholic Shut In”

Challenger and Columbia Crews Memorialized in Emotional New “Forever Remembered” Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

An iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag (left) and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia (right) are part of a new, permanent memorial, “Forever Remembered,” that opened on June 27, 2015 in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida – featuring shuttle hardware and personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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NASA’s two lost Shuttle crews from the searing Challenger and Columbia accidents are now memorialized in the newly opened, permanent and highly emotional “Forever Remembered” tribute display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

The “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute was officially opened by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, both veteran shuttle astronauts, at a very special and moving small private NASA ceremony attended by families of the 14 fallen crew members and invited members of the media including Universe Today on June 27, 2015.

“I believe that it’s important to share this story with everyone, and not just push it aside, or try to hide it,” Cabana said at the ceremony, as tears welled up in everyone present.

The shuttle tribute is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and features shuttle orbiter hardware recovered from both the Challenger STS-51L and Columbia STS-107 accidents, as well as personal crew items from all 14 courageous astronauts who lost their lives – items never before on display for viewing by the public.

The 2000 square foot exhibit features an iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger emblazoned with the American flag and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia, that are part of the permanent “Forever Remembered” memorial that opened on June 27, 2015 – see photo above.

It also holds the largest collection of personal items of both flight crews in individual displays about the 14 crew members in a hallway that leads to a plaque with a quote from U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave,” said President Ronald Reagan in remarks to the nation in mourning shortly after the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.

Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial  to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The “Forever Remembered” display was conceived in private by a very small circle spearheaded by Cabana and unknown by outsiders until the day it was formally opened. It completes the display inside the Atlantis pavilion, which commemorates NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Program that flew 135 missions from 1981 to 2011 with the reusable delta-winged vehicles that “captivated a generation.”

It is intended to be an emotional experience and “designed to honor the crews, pay tribute to the spacecraft and emphasize the importance of learning from the past” and the tragic consequences. This will enable safer flights in the future and fortify the spirit of never giving up on the exploration of space.

“The tragedies galvanized the agency to learn from these painful events, not only to safely return the shuttle fleet to flight, but to help assure the safety of future explorers,” NASA said in a statement.

Several dozen family members attended the tearful, heartfelt opening ceremony of “Forever Remembered” with very emotional remarks from Cabana and Bolden.

“These crews and these vehicles are part of who we are as an agency, and a nation. They tell the story of our never ending quest to explore, and our undying spirit to never give up,” Cabana stated at the ceremony.

Columbia and Challenger were the nation’s first two orbiters to be built. Columbia launched on the maiden space shuttle flight on April 12, 1981 on what is revered by many as the “boldest test flight in history” with NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen.

“When I look into those windows, I see John Young and Bob Crippen preparing to launch on the boldest test flight in history, the first flight of America’s space shuttle, Columbia,” Cabana added.

“I see a much younger Bob Cabana launching to space on his first command, and I see Rick and Willie and the rest of the 107 crew smiling and experiencing the wonders of space on the final flight of Columbia.”

The idea to create a permanent memorial originated with a team led by Bob Cabana, and approved by Charlie Bolden only after every one of the astronauts families were in complete and unqualified agreement that this tribute display was the right thing to do in memory of their loved ones, tragically lost during the in flight accidents in 1986 and 2003.

“The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” Bolden said at the ceremony.

“It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery and possibility. It is a story of hope.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Junwe 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The wives of the two shuttle commanders, shared their thoughts on the new exhibit:

“It’s a beautiful remembrance of all the shuttles, with the marvelous display of Atlantis. Nothing compares to it in the world,” said June Scobee Rodgers, whose husband, Dick Scobee, commanded Challenger on STS-51L, in a statement.

“But Challenger and Columbia are not forgotten, and they’re well represented.”

“I knew it would be very emotional to see, but honestly, I didn’t expect to be so impacted by it. I just can’t stop thinking about it. As you walk in, you know you’re in a special place,” Evelyn Husband Thompson said of the memorial. Her husband, Rick, commanded Columbia on STS-107.

Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here is a NASA description of both the Columbia and Challenger accidents and crews:

“Temperatures at Kennedy Space Center were just a few degrees above freezing on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, as Challenger lifted off on its 10th mission, STS-51L. One minute and 13 seconds into the flight, a booster failure caused an explosion that destroyed the vehicle, resulting in the loss of the crew of seven astronauts: Commander Francis Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ronald McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire schoolteacher.”

“Seventeen years later, on Jan. 16, 2003, NASA’s flagship orbiter Columbia thundered into orbit on STS-107, a 16-day science mission. On board were Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. On Feb. 1, 2003, the orbiter broke apart in the skies above east Texas as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on the way to a planned landing at Kennedy. Seven more lives were lost.”

“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today the fallen astronauts legacy of human spaceflight lives on at NASA with the International Space Station, the development of Commercial Crew manned capsules for low Earth orbit, and the development of the Orion deep space crew exploration vehicle and SLS rocket for NASA’s ambitious plans to send ‘Human to Mars’ in the 2030s.

Read more about both fallen shuttle crews and the Apollo 1 crew who perished in a launch pad accident in January 1967 in my tribute story posted here during NASA’s solemn week of remembrance in January.

The explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket some two minutes after launch on June 28, 2015 is a reminder that space flight is never easy or routine. Starting sometime in 2017, astronauts will launch to the ISS in a crew Dragon atop the Falcon 9. It will be equipped with a launch abort system that the shuttles never had, in case of a launch emergency.

I urge everyone to visit this hallowed “Forever Remembered” memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to benefit all of us in the quest for new knowledge of the boundless expanse of space leading to new discoveries we cannot fathom today.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Mir: Russia’s Space Station

The Mir Space Station was Russia’s greatest space station, and the first modular space station to be assembled in orbit. Commissioned in 1986, the name can be translated from Russian as “peace”, “world”, and even “village” – alluding to the spirit of international cooperation that led to its creation. Owned and operated by the Soviet Union, it became the property of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) after 1991.

The space station was intended to advocate world peace and hosted international scientists and NASA astronauts. In this respect, Mir was very much the curtain-raiser for the International Space Station, which succeeded it as the largest satellite in Earth’s orbit after 2001.

Origin:

During the 1960s and 70s, when the United States was largely focused on Apollo and the Space Shuttle program, Russia began to focus on developing expertise in long-duration spaceflight, and felt that a larger space station would allow for more research in that area. Authorized in February 1976 by a government decree, the station was originally intended to be an improved model of the Salyut space stations.

The original plan called for a core module that would be equipped with a total of four docking ports, but eventual grew to include several ports for crewed Soyuz spacecraft and Progress cargo spaceships. By August 1978, the plan had grown to the final configuration of one aft port and five ports in a spherical compartment at the forward end of the station.

The Mir Space Station and Earth limb observed from the Orbiter Endeavour during NASA's STS-89 mission in 1998. Credit: NASA
The Mir Space Station and Earth limb observed from the Orbiter Endeavour during NASA’s STS-89 mission in 1998. Credit: NASA

Two would be located at either end of the station (as with the Salyut stations) with an additional two on either side of a docking sphere at the front of the station to enable further modules to expand the station’s capabilities.  These docking ports would each accommodate 20-tonne space station modules based on the TKS spacecraft – a previous generation of space craft used to bring cosmonauts and supplies to the Salyut space stations.

Work began on the station in 1979, and drawings were released in 1982 and 83. By early 1984, work had ground to a halt as virtually all of Russia’s space resources were being put into the Buran program – a Soviet and later Russian reusable spacecraft project. Funding resumed in early 1984 when the Central Committee became determined to orbit Mir by early 1986, just in time for the 27th Communist Party Congress.

Deployment:

On February 19th, 1986, the assembly process began with the launching of Mir’s core module on a Proton-K rocket into orbit. Between 1987 and 1996, four of the six modules were launched and added to the station – Kvant-2 in 1989, Kristall in 1990, Spektr in 1995 and Priroda in 1996. In these cases, the modules were sent into orbit aboard a Proton-K, chased the station automatically, and then used their robot Lyappa arms to mate with the core.

Soviet/Russian space station Mir, after completion in 1996. The date shown for each module is its year of launch. Docked to the station are a Soyuz TM manned spacecraft and an unmanned Progress resupply ferry. Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica
Soviet/Russian space station Mir, after completion in 1996. The date shown for each module is its year of launch. Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

Kvant-1, having no engines of its own, was delivered by a TKS spacecraft in 1987, while the docking module was brought to the station aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-74) in 1995. Various other external components, including three truss structures, several experiments and other unpressurized elements, were also mounted to the exterior of the station over the course of its history.

The station’s assembly marked the beginning of the third generation of space station design, being the first to consist of more than one primary spacecraft. First generation stations such as Salyut 1 and Skylab had monolithic designs, consisting of one module with no resupply capability, while second generation stations (Salyut 6 and Salyut 7) comprised a monolithic station with two ports to allow resupply cargo spacecraft (like Progress).

The capability of Mir to be expanded with add-on modules meant that each could be designed with a specific purpose in mind, thus eliminating the need to install all the station’s equipment in one module. After construction was finished, Mir had a collection of facilities. At 13.1 meters (43 feet) long, the “core” module of the station was the main area where the cosmonauts and astronauts did their work. It also housed the main computer and vital space station parts, such as communications.

In addition to solar arrays and a docking port, the station had several facilities for orbital science. These included, but were not limited to, the two Kvant modules (where astronomy and other scientific research was conducted), the Kristall module (which had a facility for microgravity manufacturing) and Spektr (focused on Earth work).

A view of the Russian space station Mir on 3 July 1993 as seen from Soyuz TM-17. Credit: spacefacts.de
A view of the Russian space station Mir on 3 July 1993 as seen from Soyuz TM-17. Credit: spacefacts.de

Missions:

During its 15-year spaceflight, Mir was visited by a total of 28 long-duration, or “principal”, crews. Expeditions varied in length, but generally lasted around six months. Principal expedition crews consisted of two to three crew members, who often launched as part of one expedition but returned with another.

As part of the Soviet Union’s manned spaceflight program effort to maintain a long-term research outpost in space, operated by the new Russian Federal Space Agency after 1991, the vast majority of the station’s crew were Russian. However, through international collaborations, the station was made accessible to astronauts from North America, several European nations and Japan.

Collaborative programs included the Intercosmos, Euromir and Shuttle-Mir programs. Intercosmos, which ran from 1978-1988, involved astronauts from other Warsaw Pact Nations, other socialist nations – like Afghanistan, Cuba, Mongolia, and Vietnam – and pro-Soviet non-aligned nations such as India, Syria, and even France.

Euromir, which began in the 1990s, was a collaborative effort between the Russian Federal Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) to bring European astronauts to the space station. With help provided by the NASA Space Shuttle program, the goal was to recruit and train European astronauts for the then-planned International Space Station.

Meanwhile, the Shuttle–Mir Program was a collaborative space program between Russia and the United States, and involved American Space Shuttles visiting the space station, Russian cosmonauts flying on the shuttle, and an American astronaut flying aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to engage in long-duration expeditions aboard Mir.

A view of the US Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Russian Space Station Mir during STS-71 as seen by the crew of Mir EO-19 in Soyuz TM-21. Credit: NASA
A view of the US Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Russian Space Station Mir during STS-71 as seen by the crew of Mir EO-19 in Soyuz TM-21. Credit: NASA

By the time of the station’s deorbit, it had been visited by 104 different people from twelve different nations, making it the most visited spacecraft in history (a record later surpassed by the International Space Station).

Decommissioning:

When it was launched in 1986, Mir was only supposed to have a life span of about five years, but it proved to have a greater longevity than anyone expected. Unfortunately, a series of technical and structural problems eventually caught up with the station; and in November 2000, the Russian government announced that it would decommission the space station.

This began on Jan. 24th, 2001, when a Russian Progress cargo ship rendezvoused with the station carrying twice its normal amount of fuel. The extra fuel was intended to fire the Progress’ thrusters once it had docked with Mir and push the station into a controlled descent through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Russian government purchased insurance just in case the space station hit any populated area when it crashed to Earth. Luckily, the station ended up crashing into the South Pacific Ocean, landing about 2,897 kilometers from New Zealand. In 2001, former RKA General Director Yuri Koptev estimated that the cost of the Mir program to be $4.2 billion (including development, assembly and orbital operation).

Legacy:

The Mir Space Station endured for 15 years in orbit, three times its planned lifetime. It hosted scores of crew members and international visitors, raised the first crop of wheat to be grown from seed to seed in outer space, and served as a symbol of Russia’s past glories and it’s potential as a future leader in space exploration.

Jerry Linenger dons a mask during his mission on Mir in 1997. Credit: NASA
Jerry Linenger dons a mask during his mission on Mir in 1997. Credit: NASA

In addition, the station was a source of controversy over the years, due to the many accidents and hazards it endured. The most famous of these took place on February 24, 1997 during mission STS-81. On this occasion, which saw the Space Shuttle Atlantis delivering crew, supplies, and conducting a series of tests, the worst fire aboard an orbiting spacecraft broke out.

This caused failures in various on-board systems, a near collision with a Progress resupply cargo ship during a long-distance manual docking system test, and a total loss of station electrical power. The power failure also caused a loss of attitude control, which led to an uncontrolled “tumble” through space. Luckily, the crew managed to suppress the fire and regain control before long.

Another major incident took place on June 25th, when a Progress resupply ship collided with solar arrays on the Spektr module, creating a hole which caused the station to lose pressure. This was the first orbital depressurization in the history of spaceflight to take place. Luckily, no astronauts were lost while serving aboard the station.

Mir is also famous for hosting long-duration missions during its early years in space. Topping the list was Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who spent nearly 438 days aboard Mir and landed on March 22, 1995. The station itself orbited the Earth more than 86,000 times during its lifespan, and was also the largest orbiting object in the Solar System.

But most importantly of all, Mir served as the stage for the first large-scale, technical partnership between Russia and the United States after a half-century of mutual antagonism. Without it, there would be no ISS today, and numerous joint-research efforts between NASA, the ESA, Russia, and other federal space agencies, would not have been possible.

We have written many interesting articles about space stations here at Universe Today. Here’s What is the International Space Station?, Fire! How the Mir Incident Changed Space Station History, The Mir Space Station: An Unlikely Place for a Beautiful Art Exhibit, and Mir’s Fiery Re-entry, March 23, 2001.

For more information, check out the Mir Space Station and Shuttle-Mir.

And Astronomy Cast has a wonderful episode on Mir, titled Episode 297: Space Stations, Part 2: Mir

Source:

Boeing CST-100 Space Taxi Maiden Test Flight to ISS Expected Early 2017 – One on One Interview with Chris Ferguson, Last Shuttle Commander

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Boeing expects to launch the first unmanned test flight of their commercial CST-100 manned ‘space taxi’ in “early 2017,” said Chris Ferguson, commander of NASA’s final shuttle flight in an exclusive one-on-one interview with Universe Today for an inside look at Boeing’s space efforts. Ferguson is now spearheading Boeing’s human spaceflight capsule project as director of Crew and Mission Operations.

“The first unmanned orbital test flight is planned in January 2017 … and may go to the station,” Ferguson told me during a wide ranging, in depth discussion about a variety of human spaceflight topics and Boeing’s ambitious plans for their privately developed CST-100 human rated spaceship – with a little help from NASA.

Boeing has reserved a launch slot at Cape Canaveral with United Launch Alliance (ULA), but the details are not yet public.

If all goes well, the maiden CST-100 orbital test flight with humans would follow around mid-2017.

“The first manned test could happen by the end of summer 2017 with a two person crew,” he said.

“And we may go all the way to the space station.”

Boeing is among a trio of American aerospace firms, including SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp, vying to restore America’s capability to fly humans to Earth orbit and the space station by late 2017, using seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in a public/private partnership. The next round of contracts will be awarded by NASA about late summer 2014.

That’s a feat that America hasn’t accomplished in nearly three years.

“It’s been over 1000 days and counting since we landed [on STS-135],” Ferguson noted with some sadness as he checked the daily counter on his watch. He is a veteran of three space flights.

Boeing has selected Florida to be the base for its commercial crew program office. Image Credit: Boeing
Boeing CST-100 commercial crew capsule approaches the ISS in this artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing

Since the shuttles retirement in July 2011 following touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the last shuttle flight (STS-135) with Ferguson in command, no American astronauts have launched to space from American soil on American rockets and spaceships.

The only ticket to the ISS and back has been aboard the Russian Soyuz capsule.

Chris and the Boeing team hope to change the situation soon. They are chomping at the bits to get Americas back into space from US soil and provide reliable and cost-effective US access to destinations in low Earth orbit like the ISS and the proposed private Bigelow space station.

Boeing wants to send its new private spaceship all the way to the space station starting on the very first unmanned and manned test flights currently slated for 2017, according to Ferguson.

“NASA wants us to provide [crew flight] services by November 2017,” said Ferguson, according to the terms of the CCP contact award.”

The CST-100 crew capsule awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral in this artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing
The Boeing CST-100 crew capsule awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral in this artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing

The CST-100 will launch atop a man rated Atlas V rocket and carry a mix of cargo and up to seven crew members to the ISS.

“So both the first unmanned and manned test flight will be in 2017. The first unmanned orbital flight test is currently set for January 2017. The first manned test could be end of summer 2017,” he stated.

I asked Chris to outline the mission plans for both flights.

“Our first flight, the CST-100 Orbital Flight Test – is scheduled to be unmanned.”

“Originally it was just going to be an on orbital test of the systems, with perhaps a close approach to the space station. But we haven’t precluded our ability to dock.

“So if our systems mature as we anticipate then we may go all the way and actually dock at station. We’re not sure yet,” he said.

So I asked whether he thinks the CST-100 will also go dock at the ISS on the first manned test flight?

“Yes. Absolutely. We want go to all the way to the space station,” Ferguson emphatically told me.

“For the 1st manned test flight, we want to dock at the space station and maybe spend a couple weeks there.”

“SpaceX did it [docking]. So we think we can too.”

“The question is can we make the owners of the space station comfortable with what we are doing. That’s what it really comes down to.”

“As the next year progresses and the design matures and it becomes more refined and we understand our own capability, and NASA understands our capabilities as the space station program gets more involved – then I’m sure they will put the same rigor into our plan as they did into the SpaceX and Orbital Sciences plans.”

“When SpaceX and Orbital [wanted to] come up for the grapple [rather than just rendezvous], NASA asked ‘Are these guys ready?’ That’s what NASA will ask us.”

“And if we [Boeing] are ready, then we’ll go dock at the station with our CST-100.”

“And if we’re not ready, then we’ll wait another flight and go to the station the next time. It’s just that simple.”

“We looked at it and this is something we can do.”

“There are a lot of ways we have to make NASA and ourselves happy. But as a company we feel we can go do it,” Ferguson stated.

Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS. Credit: Boeing
Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS. Credit: Boeing

So the future looks promising.

But the schedule depends entirely on NASA funding levels approved by Congress. And that vital funding has been rather short on supply. It has already caused significant delays to the start of the space taxi missions for all three companies contending for NASA’s commercial crew contracts because of the significant slashes to the agency’s CCP budget request, year after year.

In fact the schedule has slipped already 18 months to the right compared to barely a few years ago.

So I asked Chris to discuss the CCP funding cuts and resulting postponements – which significantly affected schedules for Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.

Here it is in a nutshell.

“No Bucks, No Buck Rogers,” explained Ferguson.

“The original plan was to conduct both the unmanned and manned CST-100 test flights in 2015.”

“Originally, we would have flown the unmanned orbital test in the summer of 2015. The crewed test would have been at the end of 2015.”

“So both flights are now a full year and a half later.” Ferguson confirmed.

“For the presidents [CCP] funding requests for the past few years of roughly about $800 million, they [Congress] only approved about half. It was significantly less than the request.”

Now at this very moment Congress is deliberating NASA’s Fiscal 2015 budget.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has said he will beg Congress to approve full funding for the commercial crew program this year – on his hands and knees if necessary.

NASA’s final shuttle crew on STS-135 mission greets the media and shuttle workers during Atlantis rollover from the OPF-1 processing hanger to the VAB at KSC during May 2011.   From left: Rex Walheim, Shuttle Commander Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley and Sandra Magnus. The all veteran crew will delivered the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module (MPLM), science supplies, provisions and space parts to the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s final shuttle crew on STS-135 mission greets the media and shuttle workers during Atlantis rollover from the OPF-1 processing hanger to the VAB at KSC during May 2011. From left: Rex Walheim, Shuttle Commander Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley and Sandra Magnus. The all veteran crew will delivered the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module (MPLM), science supplies, provisions and space parts to the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Otherwise there will be further delays to the start of the space taxi missions. And the direct consequence is NASA would be forced to continue buying US astronaut rides from the Russians at $70 Million per seat. All against the backdrop of Russian actions in the Ukraine where deadly clashes potentially threaten US access to the ISS in a worst case scenario if the ongoing events spin even further out of control and the West ratchets up economic sanctions against Russia.

The CST-100 is designed to be a “simple ride up to and back from space,” Ferguson emphasized to me.

NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It is being designed at Boeing’s Houston Product Support Center in Texas.

In Part 2 of my interview, Chris Ferguson will discuss the details about the design, how and where the CST-100 capsule will be manufactured at a newly renovated, former space shuttle facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

STS-135 Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson (right) and Ken Kremer at emergency M-113 Tank Practice.  Chris brought a special public gift for science aboard the last shuttle mission. Chris and Ken discuss our mutual love of science in the weeks before Atlantis July 8 liftoff.  Credit: Ken Kremer
STS-135 Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson (right) and Ken Kremer (Universe Today) meet at emergency M-113 Tank Practice during crew pre-launch events at the Kennedy Space Center in the weeks before Atlantis July 8, 2011 liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Plastic Wrapped Shuttle Atlantis Slated for Grand Public Unveiling in June

Imagine visiting Star Fleet headquarters in the 23nd Century and being engulfed by a holodeck journey to a 21st century NASA Space Shuttle; complete with a full sized Hubble Space Telescope – perhaps the important science instrument ever constructed and an outstanding legacy of the Space Shuttle Program.

Well that’s the thrilling new experience awaiting the visiting public and space enthusiasts alike starting this summer at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Florida – after the ghostlike Space Shuttle Atlantis (see photo album above & below) is unveiled from a thick coating of shrink wrapped plastic.

But – there is one important caveat regarding the holodeck dream sequence.

Starting on June 29 you will be seeing the ‘real deal’, an actual space flown NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter – not a high tech imaginary glimpse, engineering reproduction or holodeck recreation.

During the recent SpaceX CRS-2 launch events, I was very fortunate to take a behind the scenes inspection tour all around of the new ‘Space Shuttle Atlantis’ pavilion that’s been under construction at the Kennedy Visitor Complex for a year and is now racing towards completion.

And Atlantis is still supremely impressive beneath that white plastic wrap – unlike any shuttle view I’ve see over the years.

Scan through my photo album walking around Atlantis – covered in 16,000 square feet of shrink wrap plastic – and the Star Fleet like pavilion that truly reminded me of an exciting Star Trek adventure ; to see what’s in store soon. The orange exterior pavilion facade is meant to evoke the scorching heat of reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Shrink-wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis inside museum home under construction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex in Florida - mounted on pedestals.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Shrink-wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis inside museum home under construction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex in Florida – mounted on steel pedestals. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The plastic wrap is protecting the orbiter from construction debris and will be unfurled in May. Then the payload bay doors will be carefully opened and the Canadian built remote manipulator system (RMS) — or robotic arm — will be installed and extended.

Inside her new 90,000-square-foot home, everyone will be treated to breathtaking, up close views of the real ‘Space Shuttle Atlantis’ mounted high on steel pedestals – tilted at exactly 43.21 degrees – simulating the outlook as though she was ‘in flight’ orbiting Earth and approaching the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS and Hubble are the primary legacies of the Space Shuttle program. Atlantis flew 33 total space missions, spent 307 days in orbit and conducted the final flight of the shuttle era.

Rear-side view of plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis inside museum home under construction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Rear-side view of plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis inside museum home under construction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex in Florida. Walkways will provide exquisite up close viewing access. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

You’ll gaze from stem to stern and from above and below – and all while peering down into the humongous open cargo bay, up to the heat shield tiles, or across to the engines, wings, tail and crew flight deck. Walkways will provide exquisite up close viewing access.

Atlantis rises some 30 feet off the ground. Although her nose soars 26.5 feet above ground the portside wingtip sits only 7.5 feet from the floor. The wing tip top soars 87 feet from the ground.

And sitting right beside Atlantis will be a co-orbiting, high fidelity full scale replica of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope which was deployed and upgraded by the astronaut crews of six space shuttle missions.

ISS module mockups, simulators and displays will tell the story of the massive stations intricate assembly by several dozen shuttle crews.

Star Fleet like headquarters- still under construction -  is the permanent new home for Space Shuttle Atlantis due to open in June 2013 the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Star Fleet like headquarters- still under construction – is the permanent new home for Space Shuttle Atlantis due to open in June 2013 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

More than 60 exhibits, hands- on activities and artifacts surrounding Atlantis will tell the complete story of the three-decade long Space Shuttle program and the thousands of shuttle workers who prepared all five orbiters for a total of 135 space missions spanning from 1981 to 2011.

Atlantis has been lovingly preserved exactly as she returned upon touchdown at the shuttle landing strip at the conclusion of her last space mission, STS-135, in July 2011 – dings, dents, scorch marks, you name it. And that is exactly as it should be in my opinion too.

Rear view of plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis with soaring tail at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Rear view of plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis with soaring tail at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Shuttle Atlantis was towed to the Visitor Complex in November. The orbiter is housed inside a spanking new six- story museum facility constructed at a cost of $100 million that dominates the skyline at the largely revamped Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Rear view of plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis and 3 main engines at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Rear view of plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis and 3 main engines at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Standing tall right outside the entry to the museum pavilion, visitors will see full scale replicas of the twin solid rocket boosters mated to the orange external fuel tank, suspended 24 feet above ground – and reaching to a top height of 185 feet. They will be erected vertically, precisely as they were at the Shuttle Launch Pads 39 A and 39 B. It will give a realistic sense of what it looked like atop the actual shuttle launch complex.

The mighty steel framework for holding the boosters in place (in case of hurricane force winds up to 140 MPH) was coming together piece by piece as workers maneuvered heavy duty cranes before my eyes during my pavilion museum tour just days ago.

Well, get set to zoom to space as never before beginning on June 29 with the last shuttle orbiter that ever flew in space.

Ken Kremer

Plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis tilted at 43.21 degrees and mounted on pedestals at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Plastic wrapped Space Shuttle Atlantis tilted at 43.21 degrees and mounted on pedestals at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Workers install steel braces for outside display of twin shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters at new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilions due to open in June 2013 the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Workers install steel braces for outside display of twin shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters at new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilions due to open in June 2013 the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
A full-scale space shuttle external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters will serve as a gateway at the entry to Space Shuttle Atlantis. The metallic “swish” on the outside of the new exhibit building is representative of the shuttle’s re-entry to Earth. Image credit: PGAV Destinations
A full-scale space shuttle external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters will serve as a gateway at the entry to Space Shuttle Atlantis. The metallic “swish” on the outside of the new exhibit building is representative of the shuttle’s re-entry to Earth. Image credit: PGAV Destinations
Steel trusses being installed as braces for outside vertical display of full size twin, full size shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Steel trusses being installed as braces for outside vertical display of twin, full size shuttle Solid Rocket Booster replicas at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Atlantis Final Crew and NASA thank Shuttle Workforce with space flown Tribute Banner

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Following the majestic predawn touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to close out the Space Shuttle Era, the final crew of Atlantis, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and KSC Director Bob Cabana thanked the Space Shuttle workforce for their dedication and hard work at an employee appreciation event held outside the processing hangers where the orbiters were prepared for the 135 shuttle missions flown by NASA over more than thirty years.

The four person crew of Atlantis on the STS-135 mission flew a special commemorative banner millions of miles to the International Space Station and back in honor of the thousands of workers who processed, launched and landed America’s five space shuttles. They unfurled the banner at the employee event at KSC in tribute to the shuttle workers.

“It’s great to be here in sunny Florida,” said STS 135 Commander Chris Ferguson. “Mike Leinbach [ the Space Shuttle Launch Director] said there was no way he’d let us land in California.”

“We want to express our gratitude on behalf of the astronaut office for everything you have done here at KSC, the safety you have built into the vehicles, the meticulous care that you take of the orbiter. As soon as we got on orbit, I was absolutely amazed that everything in Atlantis works so well. Everything looks beautiful on the inside.”

STS-135 crew and space flown tribute banner to Space Shuttle workforce. Credit: NASA

“I hope you all believe that every time we go, we take a little bit of every one of you with us,” Ferguson emphasized.

Atlantis was parked at the event as a backdrop for photo opportunities with the thousands of shuttle workers in attendance – along with over a hundred journalists including the Universe Today team of Alan Walters and Ken Kremer.

“Like Chris said, our one landing option was getting back to Florida and you all rather than anywhere else. It felt like being home again. Thank you for everything you have all done over the last 30+ years,” said Doug Hurley.

“We treated Atlantis with the utmost respect because we see firsthand how you process this vehicle and it is your baby,” said Rex Waldheim. “It is clean and well cared for. We did that for you because you all did such a great job preparing it for us.”

“You are such a special work force,” added Sandy Magnus. “There is no workforce like the space program workforce anywhere in the world. The pride, care, dedication and passion you take in your work is what makes it possible to have these very challenging missions and to succeed. You have to do everything right all of the time. And you DO. And you make it look easy!! Congratulations!”

The STS-135 crew then unfurled the colorful banner taken to the ISS aboard Atlantis to commemorate NASA’s Space Shuttle Era.

“We took this banner with us to space and this is our way of telling you that you guys rock ! We will present this to Mike Leinbach and Bob Cabana as just a small token of our appreciation for all the work you’ve done for us. Thank you for such a wonderful vehicle,” Ferguson summed up.

KSC Director Bob Cabana thanks the Shuttle Workforce. Credit Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)

The crew then waved good bye to the thousands of shuttle workers, posed with Atlantis one last time and departed with their families for a homecoming celebration at their training base at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Atlantis was then towed a few hundred yards (meters) and came to rest inside the Orbiter Processing Facility to conclude her final spaceflight journey as the last of NASA’s flight worthy Space Shuttle Orbiters. She has began decommissioning activities due to last several months to prepare for her future retirement home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) just a few miles (km) away.

STS-135 crew pose with Atlantis and wave farewell to shuttle workforce at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com

Atlantis permanent new abode at KSCVC is set to open in 2013 where she will be genuinely displayed bearing scorch marks from reentry and as though “In Flight” with payload bays doors wide open for the general public to experience reality up close.

For some 1500 shuttle workers, the day’s proceedings were both joyous and bittersweet – as their last full day of employment and last chance to bask in the glow of the triumphant conclusion of the Shuttle Era.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulates the Shuttle Workforce. Credit Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)
STS-135 say farewell to Atlantis and shuttle workforce at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA shuttle workers welcome STS-135 crew at employee appreciation event. Credit Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)

Last Towback of a Flight Worthy Space Shuttle – Atlantis Post Touchdown Photo Album

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Space Shuttle Atlantis closed out NASA’s Space Shuttle Era with a safe touchdown on July 21, 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at the conclusion of the STS-135 mission, the 135th and final shuttle mission.

I was extremely fortunate to be an eyewitness to history and one of the lucky few journalists permitted by NASA to follow along as Atlantis took her historic final journey back from wheels stop at Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility as a flight worthy orbiter.

A convoy of 25 specialized vehicles safe each orbiter after landing. Some four hours later, Atlantis was towed off the runway with a diesel powered tractor for about 2 miles along the tow way leading to the Orbiter Processing Facility which lies adjacent to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at KSC.

The STS-135 crew consisted of Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.

Check out my Towback Photo Album below, and prior album from wheels stop at the shuttle runway earlier in the day, here:

Atlantis towed nose first from runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at KSC.
Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Atlantis towback from shuttle landing strip on July 21, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer
Atlantis and post landing convoy vehicles. Credit: Ken Kremer
Impressionistic Atlantis. Credit: Ken Kremer
Convoy of 25 specialized vehicles tow Atlantis from the runway to the Orbiter Processing Facility.
Credit: Ken Kremer
Convoy crew waves to media. Credit: Ken Kremer
Convoy of 25 specialized vehicles tow Atlantis two miles along tow way from the runway to the Orbiter Processing Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer
Atlantis heads to the Orbiter Processing Facility adjacent to Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC.
Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my features about the Final Shuttle mission, STS-135:
Wheels Stop ! With Awesome Atlantis on the Shuttle Runway – Photo Gallery Part 1
Ghostly Landing of Atlantis Closes America’s Space Shuttle Era Forever
Love of Science Drives Last Shuttle Commander – Chris Ferguson Brings Science Museum to Orbit
Revolutionary Robotic Refueling Experiment Opens New Research Avenues at Space Station
Water Cannon Salute trumpets recovery of Last Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters – Photo Album
Shuttle Atlantis Soars to Space One Last time: Photo Album
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

Wheels Stop ! With Awesome Atlantis on the Shuttle Runway – Photo Gallery Part 1

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At Wheels Stop with Atlantis ! Here ended the Shuttle Era

A few short hours after the touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis closed out NASA’s Space Shuttle Era, myself and a small group of extremely lucky journalists and photographers were invited by NASA to journey to ‘Wheels Stop’ – Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center for a thrilling and once in a lifetime eyewitness experience to the exact spot where Atlantis rolled to a stop.

After 30 years and 135 missions, the landing of the Final Flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 21, 2011 at 5:57 a.m. concluded America’s Space Shuttle Program. The Grand Finale was commemorated with banners, quilts and celebrations at Runway 15.

The STS-135 crew comprised of Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.

It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be granted this extremely rare and magnificent opportunity to witness history first hand by the folks at NASA and the Kennedy Space Center – and share this with the public. Thank you !

See my Atlantis ‘Wheels Stop’ photo album below and more upcoming from Universe Today colleague Alan Walters

Space Shuttle workers and NASA managers commemorate the exact spot where NASA’s Space Shuttle Era ended at the shuttle landing facility after three decades and 135 missions on July 21, 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Atlantis - The Final Flight. Banner displayed below the nose of Atlantis at Runway 15. Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier (4th from right) poses with shuttle workers and managers at Runway 15 on July 21, 2011 at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
Atlantis - The Final Flight. Banner displayed below the nose of Atlantis at Runway 15 with shuttle workers and managers at Runway 15 on July 21, 2011 at KSC. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and KSC Center Director Bob Cabana at far right. Credit: Ken Kremer
Awesome Atlantis nose and crew cabin at wheels stop for the Space Shuttle Era on Runway 15 at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
Quilt with all 135 shuttle mission patches displayed with Atlantis at shuttle runway after final landing at KSC. Homemade quilt crafted by shuttle workers. Credit: Ken Kremer

Technicians at work reconfiguring Atlantis after the final landing and draining residual cryogenic fuels during normal post flight processing activities at the shuttle runway. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks to reporters at Runway 15. Credit: Ken Kremer

KSC Center Director Bob Cabana speaks with reporters at the Shuttle Runway. Credit: Ken Kremer
Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier inspects Atlantis belly and wheels at KSC shuttle runway. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer at ‘wheels stop’ with Space Shuttle Atlantis at landing Runway 15 at KSC - a thrilling and once in a lifetime eyewitness experience at the bittersweet end of NASA’s Space Shuttle Era. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my features about the Final Shuttle mission, STS-135:
Ghostly Landing of Atlantis Closes America’s Space Shuttle Era Forever
Love of Science Drives Last Shuttle Commander – Chris Ferguson Brings Science Museum to Orbit
Revolutionary Robotic Refueling Experiment Opens New Research Avenues at Space Station
Water Cannon Salute trumpets recovery of Last Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters – Photo Album
Shuttle Atlantis Soars to Space One Last time: Photo Album
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

Ghostly Landing of Atlantis Closes America’s Space Shuttle Era Forever

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Barely discernable in the pre-dawn twilight and appearing as an eerie, ghost like figure, Space Shuttle Atlantis and her four person crew swiftly glided to a triumphant landing at the Kennedy Space Center that closed out NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Era – in the wink of an eye it was all over.

Atlantis touched down almost invisibly on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at 5:57 a.m. EDT and rolled to a stop moments later to conclude the history making 13 day flight to the International Space Station and back. During the STS-135 mission Atlantis orbited the Earth 200 times and journeyed 5,284,862 miles.

The all veteran crew of space flyers comprised of Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.

The finality of it all was at once thoroughly unbelievable that the shuttles would never fly again but utterly definitive at ‘wheel stop’ that we had witnessed the end of a historic and magnificent Era in human spaceflight.

Atlantis glides down Runway 15. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)

Everyone present at the shuttle landing strip let out a loud cheer and thankful applause upon the safe conclusion to the 135th and last flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program – since the first blastoff of Columbia on the STS-1 mission on April 12, 1981.

“Mission complete, Houston,” radioed Commander Ferguson. “After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It’s come to a final stop.”

But the sinking realization that America at that exact moment had simultaneously and voluntarily lost 100% of our indigenous national capability to send humans and cargo to the International Space Station is quite troubling to say the least.

Atlantis rolling to a stop on July 21, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The end of the shuttle program also marked the end of employment for nearly 2000 highly talented shuttle workers in the midst of a continuing tough economic situation all across the US. And thousand more pink slips are looming.

The primary goal of the STS-135 mission was to deliver more than 9,400 pounds of spare parts, food, water, science experiments and assorted gear to the International Space Station that were loaded aboard the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module – which functions as a ‘moving van’ in space.

All these supplies are “absolutely mandatory”, according to top NASA managers, for sustaining ISS operations for about one year into 2012. By that time NASA hopes that two US commercial space companies – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences – will have flown successful unmanned cargo flights to replace the capability completely lost with the premature retirement of NASA’s three orbiter fleet of winged Space Shuttles.

Atlantis rolling to a stop on July 21, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer

For the return trip to Earth, the 21-foot long, 15-foot diameter Raffaello brought back nearly 5,700 pounds of valuable science samples and unneeded trash to free up coveted storage space aboard the massive orbiting outpost.

“Although we got to take the ride,” said Commander Chris Ferguson on behalf of his crew,” we sure hope that everybody who has ever worked on, or touched, or looked at, or envied or admired a space shuttle was able to take just a little part of the journey with us.”

Upon departing Atlantis at the shuttle runway, Ferguson and the entire crew were welcomed back by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and other senior officials.

“They have come to be known as the ‘final four.’ They did an absolutely incredible job,” said Bolden. “They made us very proud.”

“I really want to thank the space shuttle team and the Space Shuttle Program for just a tremendous effort today and throughout the entire history of the program. We gave them a tremendous challenge to fly and execute these missions and to finish strong and I can tell you today that the team accomplished every one of those objectives,” said Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier at a post landing briefing for reports at the Kennedy Space Center. “I’d also like to thank the nation for allowing us to have these thirty years to go use the shuttle system.”

“It is great to have Atlantis safely home after a tremendously successful mission — and home to stay,” said Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center director.

Atlantis landing approach on July 21, 2011 at KSC. Credit: Mike Deep and David Gonzales

Atlantis future retirement home will be constructed just a short distance away at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC).

Visitor Complex COO Bill Moore told me that he expects Atlantis will be put on permanent public display in 2013 after completion of a new 64,000 sq. ft exhibition building to house the orbiter. Atlantis will be displayed as though it were “In Flight.”

“I’m unbelievably proud to be here representing the Space Shuttle Program and the thousands of people across the country who do the work,” said Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager. “Hearing the sonic booms as Atlantis came home for the last time really drove it home to me that this has been a heck of a program.”

“The workers out here and across the country in the Space Shuttle Program have dedicated their lives, their hearts and their souls to this program, and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Mike Leinbach, the space shuttle launch director at KSC.

Altogether Atlantis flew 33 missions, spent 307 days in space, orbited Earth 4,848 times and traveled 125,935,769 miles. Atlantis was the last of NASA three orbiters to be retired and closed out the Space Shuttle Era.
Wheels stop marked the dreaded end of American manned spaceflight from American soil for many years to come. No one can say with certainty how or when America will again launch humans to space.

From one moment to the next America’s leadership in space position has evaporated – with the utilization of the most capable spaceship ever built and now operating at the peak of its performance yielding instead to reigning uncertainly as to what comes next given the dire outlook for the NASA budget in the foreseeable future.

A new US manned launch system – most likely in the form of a commercial “space taxi” – could perhaps lift off by mid-decade, but the task is formidable and the funding obstacles are sky high.

In the meantime, America is fully dependent on the Russians to loft Americans to space. All US astronauts headed to the ISS for the next three to five years at a minimum will be forced to hitch a ride aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.

Atlantis Final Landing Photos contributed by Alan Walters, Ken Kremer, Mike Deep, David Gonzales, John L. Salsbury and Chase Clark

Up next: Wheels Stop with Atlantis on the Shuttle Landing Strip and Towback to the Orbiter Processing Facility

Atlantis STS-135 landing approach on July 21, 2011 at KSC. Credit: John L. Salsbury
Atlantis landing approach on July 21, 2011 at KSC. Credit: John L. Salsbury
STS-135 Post Landing Crew Briefing at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site. From Left: Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim and Pilot Doug Hurley. Credit: Chase Clark/www.ShuttlePhotos.com

Read my features about the Final Shuttle mission, STS-135:
Love of Science Drives Last Shuttle Commander – Chris Ferguson Brings Science Museum to Orbit
Revolutionary Robotic Refueling Experiment Opens New Research Avenues at Space Station
Water Cannon Salute trumpets recovery of Last Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters – Photo Album
Shuttle Atlantis Soars to Space One Last time: Photo Album
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