NASA launched the Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-135, its final mission, and the final mission of the 30 year long shuttle program at 11:29 ET. The mission was delayed with an unexpected hold at T-31 seconds when an error indicated that the Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm had not fully retracted. Visual examination showed the error was a computer glitch and the countdown continued. Originally, Atlantis was supposed to have flown its last mission in May, 2010, but the current mission was added on October 11, 2010. The first shuttle launch, of Columbia, occurred on April 12, 1981.
A speck of lunar dust about the size of a finger nail, which has been missing since shortly after it was brought back to Earth by the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, has been recovered by NASA and the US Attorney’s Office from an auction house in St. Louis. Originally lifted from a film canister, the dust was sold in 2001 to a German collector whose widow was trying to sell it. When informed of the dust’s provenance, she returned it to the US government.
NASA sent the shutdown command to the Mars Spirit Rover on May 25, seven years after the exploration vehicle landed. Spirit was scheduled to operate for approximately three weeks and cover a distance of a couple hundred yards. Instead, it operated for more than five years and covered almost five miles. Spirit made its last transmission on March 22, 2010. Spirit‘s sister craft, Opportunity, is still operating.
NASA has announced that the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis will occur on July 8, 2011. This will also be the final launch of the space shuttle program, which began with the launch of Columbia in 1981. Atlantis was previously scheduled for a final launch in May, 2010.
The final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour has been postponed at least 72 hours due to concerns relating to the shuttle’s heating system. The external fuel tank will be drained of its oxygen and hydrogen propellants. This will the 25th and final mission of Endeavour.
NASA announced the four museums which will receive the space shuttles Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis, and prototype shuttle Enterprise at a press conference held on the fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight and the thirtieth anniversary of the first launch of Columbia. Discovery has already flown its final mission. Endeavour‘s final launch is scheduled for April 29 and Atlantis‘s final launch for June 28.
The disposition of the shuttles is:
- Discovery: Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
- Endeavour: California Science Center, Los Angeles, CA
- Atlantis: Kennedy Space Center, Florida
- Enterprise: Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York, NR
STS-134, the final flight for the space shuttle Endeavour has been postponed from April 19 until April 29. The delay removes a scheduling conflict with a Russian Progress supply vehicle scheduled to launch April 27 and arrive at the station April 29.
NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has achieved Hermian orbit and has sent back the first photograph of Mercury from Orbit, an image that shows an Debussy crater with ejecta rays. In the first six hours after orbital insertion, MESSENGER took more than 360 images. It will be photographing portions of Mercury not captured by three previous flyby missions. MESSENGER main science mission, which includes a complete surface mapping, is expected to begin on April 4.
James Vanover (b.1957), an employee of United Space Alliance, fell to his death from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on March 14. Vanover was helping prepare the space shuttle Endeavour for its final launch, scheduled for April 19. Vanover had worked at NASA since 1983. According to NASA officials, Vanover is the first launch pad fatality since 1981, shortly before the maiden launch of Columbia. More details have not been released pending a safety investigation.