The Last Space Shuttle Mission: Flight Day 14

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.

The wakeup song for the final day of STS-135, the Space Shuttle program's last mission, was "God Bless America" by Kate Smith. Dedicated to all of the men and women who have worked on the Space Shuttle, in space or back on Earth, the song played at 9:29 p.m. EDT so that the crew would wake and have plenty of time to prepare for landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center early Thursday morning.

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

As the crew stowed all items they wouldn't need for the mission's final hours, specialists down as Mission Control continued to closely watch the weather forecasts. At 12:31 a.m. the Spaceflight Meteorology Group updated its forecast to "very favorable" and predicted that it would remain that way until the scheduled landing time of 5:56:58 a.m. EDT. Here's how the weather synopsis was presented to all watching the Shuttle: "The EOM weather outlook for KSC remains very favorable. Surface high pressure will continue to build across the southeast U.S. into Thursday with dry conditions and light winds expected for EOM. No weather flight rule violations are forecast for EOM+1 at KSC as the large scale weather pattern over east central Florida changes very little between EOM and EOM+1."

At close to 2:30 a.m. the crew aboard the Space Shuttle closed Atlantis' payload bay doors as it was expected they would soon receive a "go" from entry flight director Tony Ceccacci. Over the next hour, commands were given for the crew to begin running Ops 3 entry software on the Atlantis' computers and to suit up. At 4:49:04 a.m. EDT, mission control capcom Barry Wilmore gave Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson the "go" for a deorbit burn. For exactly three minutes and 16 seconds the Shuttle's two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines fired, slowing the Atlantis down to the ideal reentry speed.

At 5:24:50 a.m., the Space Shuttle reentered the Earth's atmosphere and, about 17 minutes later, a maneuver was made to slow the spacecraft down. The Shuttle was directed towards the west coast of Florida where, over Naples, it triggered twin sonic booms as it slowed down to subsonic speed. At 5:57:00 a.m., the Shuttle's main gear touched down at Kennedy's runway 15. With that, the Space Shuttle program officially came to a close. "At wheels stop, the mission elapsed time was 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes and 50 seconds," according to NASA. This was the 133rd -- and final -- landing in Shuttle history.

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 11Flight Day 12 and Flight Day 13.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/the-last-space-shuttle-mission-flight-day-14/242239/