The Last Space Shuttle Mission: Flight Day 13

By Nicholas Jackson

When Space Shuttle Atlantis left Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday, July 8, it marked the final liftoff for the long-running Space Shuttle Program, which has dominated NASA's manned operations for the past four decades. Over a 12-day mission (since extended to 13 days), the four-person crew on STS-135 will haul the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Raffaello and a Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier (LMC) to the International Space Station. Over the course of the mission, we'll be providing daily updates.

To begin flight day 13, the crew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis -- now separated from the crew aboard the International Space Station -- was awakened at 9:32 p.m. EDT. The majority of the day was spent doing pre-landing checks of Atlantis' reaction control system thrusters and the Shuttle's flight control systems as tomorrow is the big day; the crew is preparing to land at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida just before 6 a.m.

Story continues after the gallery, which will be updated as the mission wears on.

The wakeup song for the crew was Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," which was played specifically for Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson. A special message from the employees at the Kennedy Space Center followed the song: "Three ... two ... one ... Good morning, Atlantis!," the recording said. "Kennedy salutes you. See you back at wheels stop!"

Once awake, the crew began to prepare for landing. First up: Stowing all items that are no longer needed for the mission. Following that, the crew went to work testing flight control systems and firing all of the Shuttle's thrusters to make sure that they are working properly. The flight control system, powered by one of the Shuttle's three auxiliary power units, was tested to ensure that Atlantis' speed brake and elevons will function once the ship reenters Earth's atmosphere. The thrusters, of course, will be used to steer the Shuttle; all of the jets were found to be working at they should.

After making sure that all systems were go for landing, the Atlantis crew deployed PicoSat, a tiny demonstration satellite measuring just 5" x 5" x 10". Ejected from a canister stored in the Shuttle's cargo bay, PicoSat will send data back to NASA about the performance of its solar cells; the hope is that this technology can be incorporated into the design of future space hardware. "PicoSat was the 180th and final payload deployed in Space Shuttle history," NASA noted.

Read more reports from the final Space Shuttle mission: Flight Day 4Flight Day 5, Flight Day 6, Flight Day 7, Flight Day 8Flight Day 9Flight Day 10Flight Day 11 and Flight Day 12.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/the-last-space-shuttle-mission-flight-day-13/242059/