Despite the possibility of delays due to weather, the space shuttle Atlantis successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on schedule this morning at 11:26 EDT. It is the final flight both for the Atlantis, and for NASA's 30-year shuttle program as a whole. The 12-day STS-135 mission will see four crew members traveling to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver supplies.
The Atlantis was the fourth shuttle built, and first launched on Oct. 3rd, 1985. This is its 33rd flight, and the 135th flight in the entire shuttle program.
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Aboard the Atlantis for this historic flight are Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus and Mission Specialist Rex Walheim. STS-135 will see the spacecraft delivering the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module to the ISS, which contains 8,000 pounds (3,629 kg) of supplies and spare parts for keeping the space station running once the shuttles are no longer able to make deliveries. Russia's Soyuz capsule will henceforth be the only way of reaching the station.
The Atlantis will also be dropping off the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), "an experiment designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space, even satellites not designed to be serviced." Additionally, it will be returning an ammonia pump that had previously failed on the ISS.
The shuttle is scheduled to return to Earth and land at the Kennedy Space Center on July 20th. At that time, we'll be taking a closer look at the history of the shuttle program, and NASA's future plans for space travel.
All images courtesy NASAView gallery - 9 images