Today, after 133 launches spanning nearly three decades, the era of the Space Shuttle is set to close with one final launch. Atlantis is currently on the launchpad, fueled, loaded with her four man crew and ready to delivery supplies to the ISS. It’s a bittersweet day as an exciting time in the US’s space history comes to a close, but unfortunately due to budget constraints rather than replacement with a new launch vehicle.
The launch is scheduled for 11:26 EDT today, but it might not happen. The weather isn’t cooperating but Launch Director Mike Leinbach told the launch team, “We do have a shot at this today.” If today’s launch is scrubbed, they will try again tomorrow.
NASA has the social media thing down. There are several different venues to follow along. The Ustream feed is embedded after the jump and NASA’s official Twitter feed is understandable active this morning. Xeni Jardin also happens to be on site and is liveblogging the event. Follow her updates here.
It’s all up to the weather now. NASA gave a “Go” to fuel the external tank at 2:01AM this morning despite the weather. Lightning actually stuck near the shuttle last night. Atlantis’s 33rd and final mission will be delayed and given a “No Go” if the weather deteriorates. But the weather won’t stop the inevitable. The final Space Shuttle mission will happen in the next few days.
30 years ago today the Space Shuttle Columbia blasted off on the first shuttle mission. Two missions ultimately ended up in disaster, but the five shuttles spent a collective 1289 days in space over 132 missions. The program is set for retirement after Endeavor’s final voyage later this month, and so the three remaining shuttles along with the Enterprise prototype are going to need cozy homes.
Of course every museum around the US wants one, but there are only four shuttles to go around with one already designated for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The new homes are to cover the $28.8 million cost of prepping and transporting the massive shuttles, but those cost should be easily recovered with ticket sales. NASA’s been taking suitors for the last few months and used the historic anniversary to announce the winning locations.
Space Shuttle Discovery
Somber fact about the Discovery: After her final space mission this past March, she became the only Shuttle to survive her final launch and landing unlike both the Challenger and Columbia. Now she’s going to end up at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to replace the Enterprise prototype.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
The Atlantis first took off from Kennedy Space Center in April of 1985 and flew for the final time on May 14, 2010. She logged 120 million miles over 32 missions and will stay in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center after NASA removes all the dangerous fluids and equipment.
Space Shuttle Endeavor
Save a disaster, the youngest Space Shuttle Endeavor is on her way to the California Science Center in Los Angeles after flying the final Space Shuttle mission later this month.
The Enterprise is to be moved from its current home in the Smithsonian to the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum on the West Side of Manhattan. While it never actually reached outer space, the Enterprise conducted upper atmosphere test flights and actually flew over New York City in 1983. Likewise, NYC never had a major historical claim to the Shuttle like several other vying locations, but the 1943 warship museum does pull close to a million visitors a year.
An anonymous reader writes “The STS-133 crew will deliver robot Robonaut 2 (R2) to the International Space Station. Cocooned inside an aluminum frame and foam blocks cut out to its shape, R2 is heading to the station inside the Permanent Multipurpose Module in space shuttle Discovery’s payload bay. R2, with its humanlike hands and arms and stereo vision, is expected to perform some of the repetitive or more mundane functions inside the orbiting laboratory to free astronauts for more complicated tasks and experiments.”