The space shuttle Atlantis took off today on its last mission, manned by six crew members carrying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), for the 11th time.
The 12-day mission will be delivering a Russian Mini Research Module that will provide additional storage space and a new docking port for the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.
The module, Rassvet (or Dawn in Russian) is to be permanently attached to the ISS. The module is also carrying a radiator, air lock robotic arm and a portable work platform, according to Eve Stavros, Boeing’s Payload Floor Manager.
The Atlantis’ crew includes commander, US Navy Captain Ken Ham, the commander, pilot, US Navy Commander Tony Antonelli, mission specialists, Garret Reisman, retired US Air Force Colonel Michael Good, Piers Sellers and US Navy Captain Steven Bowen, who also happens to be the first submariner to be selected as an astronaut.
The crew will conduct three spacewalks , with each expected to last around six and a half hours. Reisman and Bowen will install a spare space-to-ground Ku-band antenna on the station’s truss (backbone) on the fourth day and Bowen and Good will remove and replace three of the six batteries on the port side of the truss on the sixth day of the mission. Good and Reisman will install the last three batteries on the truss and all the six old batteries will be put on the cargo carrier and returned to earth.
The Atlantis, also known as OV (Orbiter Vehicle)-104, has been in operation since October, 1985 and this mission, STS (Space Transportation System)- 132, is its 32nd flight. It was named after the primary research sailing vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts from 1930 to 1966.
The next shuttle launch, the second last, will be of the Discover and will take place on September 16, 2010 and the final launch, of the Endeavour, is scheduled for November-December this year. The Russian spacecraft Soyuz, will then be relied upon to transport cargo and crew back and forth from the ISS.
Your correspondent’s visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the Atlantis launch was facilitated by the Boeing Company.