Majestic Last Landing for Atlantis

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Ken Kremer for NASA Watch 26 May 2010, Kennedy Space Center

Space Shuttle Atlantis closed out a quarter century of service to the exploration of space with a majestic return from orbit and a spectacular landing this morning (May 26) at 8:48 AM EDT at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Atlantis and her six man crew descended through the atmosphere and were greeted by absolutely clear blue skies for what is likely to be her final touchdown on Earth.

Unless President Obama approves a final additional flight, Atlantis takes its place in the history books.

The orbiter approached from the south and was clearly visible to myself and other spectators from our bullseye perch nearby the Shuttle Landing Strip at KSC. She suddenly appeared as a faint speck, like a daytime star, that rapidly grew in size and form for some two minutes prior to landing at runway 33.

The forecasted threatening clouds fortunately stayed well off shore allowing Mission Control in Houston to easily approve a “GO” for Shuttle Commander Ken Ham to initiate the de-orbit burn at 7:41 AM while circling 220 miles above Indonesia. The STS 132 mission lasted 11 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes from liftoff on May 14 to landing today during a journey of 4.9 million miles and 186 orbits about the earth. The primary goal of STS 132 was delivery of the Russian built Rassvet science module and other crucial spare parts to the International Space Station as a hedge against the looming date for the complete retirement NASA’s three Orbiter shuttle fleet. The ISS is now 94% complete by volume and 98% complete by mass. Shuttle Atlantis completed 32 missions, lasting 294 days, while flying 120 million miles during 4648 orbits of the Earth since her first launch in 1985.

The fact is that only money, not safety, is causing the Space Shuttle Program to be prematurely grounded while the orbiters are now operated at the absolute peak of their performance and safety.

NASA has already purchased all the hardware needed to fly one more shuttle mission. But NASA requires money and approval from the Obama Administration and the Congress to officially add the flight to the manifest which would be designated as STS 135.

Check out my earlier STS 132 launch, countdown, payload and mission reports from on site here at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site:

http://nasawatch.com/archives/2010/05/atlantis-heads.html#more, http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1392, http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1388, http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1389, http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1390, and http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1391

Only 2 shuttle flights remain on the manifest.

If you can, try and watch a magnificent shuttle flight in person before they are no more. There is nothing like seeing for yourself and being a witness to history.

The Space Shuttle is the most complex and capable machine built by humans. And there is nothing in the foreseeable future that will even come close to matching or replacing its awesome power and capabilities to explore the High Frontier.

See my STS 132 landing photo album below:



Atlantis on final approach to Runway 33 for her final schedule mission to space. Credit: Ken Kremer

 Atlantis descends rapidly after earlier flying over the Florida Everglades. Credit: Ken Kremer



Atlantis drag chute deployed to assist speed brakes. Credit: Ken Kremer


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