First Ever Video of NASA’s ‘Ice Team’

NASA has released, for the first time, video of the final inspection of a space shuttle before launch. The Final Inspection Team, also known as the “Ice Team,” performs a walkdown of Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A during space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-132 launch countdown on May 14, 2010. The six-member team walks on every level of the pad’s fixed service structure, inspecting the shuttle, external fuel tank, solid rocket boosters, pad structure and ground equipment for signs of ice buildup, debris or anything else that might be amiss prior to launch. As part of the inspection, photos are taken and transmitted to the launch team for review.

A videographer for NASA was included as a member of the team to capture the first-ever up close, high-definition video of this important and hazardous inspection process.

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?”

Picture Gallery: STS-132, Atlantis’ Last Mission

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Is this Atlantis’ last mission to space? STS-132 is the last scheduled flight for space shuttle Atlantis, and it remains to be seen whether any additional shuttle flights will be added. But the imagery from this mission is incredibly rich with wonderful images of the orbiter. So, while previous shuttle mission galleries we have here on Universe Today normally feature images from the EVAs, this gallery will mainly showcase images of Atlantis. And there are some really great photos — not sure whether the astronauts/photographers are consciously focusing on the shuttle or these images are just marvelously serendipitous. We’ll do a second gallery as more images come in from the later part of the mission. Enjoy!

Atlantis during the R-bar pitch maneuver as it approaches the ISS. Credit: NASA

Atlantis is backdropped by Earth as the shuttle approaches the International Space Station during STS-132 rendezvous and docking operations. Docking occurred at 9:28 a.m. (CDT) on May 16, 2010.

Cool view of Atlantis' back end, as it approaches the ISS. Credit: NASA

Just a very neat image of Atlantis, as seen from the ISS, backdropped by a cloudy area on Earth.

Another incredible shot of the ISS, with Atlantis' tail visible. Credit: NASA

Amazing shot of the Russian Segment behind Atlantis’s tail on FD 4 prior to docking.

Robotic arm ballet, with astronaut. Credit: NASA

Anchored to a Canadarm2 mobile foot restraint, NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman works during the STS-132 mission’s first EVA. Dextre, a two-armed extension for the station’s robotic arm is also visible.

Fish eye view of Garrett Reisman working in the ISS's Cupola. Credit: NASA

This image might win the award for most futuristic looking image of the mission, and some have compared it to a scene from the movie “2001” — um, wait, is that considered a history movie now?

View of the ISS as Atlantis approaches on May 16, 2010. Credit: NASA
The Russian Mini Research Module, Rassvet, pulled from Atlantis' payload bay. Credit: NASA

In the grasp of the Canadarm2, the Russian-built Mini-Research Module 1 (MRM-1) is transferred from space shuttle Atlantis’ payload bay to be permanently attached to the Earth-facing port of the Zarya Functional Cargo Block (FGB) of the International Space Station.

Steve Bowen during the first EVA of STS-132. Credit: NASA

Obligatory image of a waving astronaut during an EVA. But it never gets old, so keep it up, guys!

Stunning view and colors. Credit: NASA
Another great view of Atlantis, her starboard wing area, over Earth. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman takes a self-portrait visor while participating in the first of three spacewalks. Credit: NASA
Atlantis' launch on May 14, 2010. Credit: NASA

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)”

So, How Would YOU Dress for Atlantis’ Last Scheduled Launch?

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While most shuttle crews wear polo shirts or comfortable button-downs for their ceremonial pre-launch “last meal” on Earth (for a few days, anyway) the STS-132 crew decided to dress in a style befitting the occasion; the last-ever scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis. Very cool, but wow, I didn’t know they still made tuxedos like that. Looks like something out of the 1960’s! That’s Piers Sellers with the shades.

According to the Right Stuff blog, here’s what the crew ate:

Commander Ken Ham ate a Fly-Jay sandwich (pastrami, ham, turkey, lettuce, provolone cheese on whole wheat bread with spicy mustard), pickle and regular Lay’s potato chips.

Pilot Tony Antonelli ate shrimp cocktail, a medium rare filet steak and french fries.

Mission specialist 1 Garrett Reisman ate shrimp cocktail and a Swiss bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and ketchup.

Mission specialist 2 Mike Good ate shrimp cocktail, a sliced turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese on plain wheat toast and french fries.

Mission specialist 3 Steve Bowen ate tossed salad with Italian dressing, a medium rare filet steak and french fries.

Mission specialist 4 Piers Sellers ate shrimp cocktail, a green salad with oil and Balsamic vinegar, a medium rare filet steak and french fries.

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.