It's hard to believe, but the last planned Space Shuttle flight (for Atlantis) is set to go in the next 24 hours. This final 12 day mission's goal will be to deliver a cargo carrier and a Russian-built mini research module. In addition, they will complete several other tasks on this last and final mission. This flight will accomodate 6 crew members.
Let's recap the shuttles' almost 30 year run with some fun and interesting facts:
First Takeoff- Columbia, April 12, 1981. There was only a 2 person crew aboard and it landed at Edwards' Air Force Base April 14, 1981.
There were five shuttles that were used during it's history: Challenger (lost 1986), Columbia (lost 2003), Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis. The first shuttle "Enterprise", was made but never launched. Anyone care to guess where they got the name from on that? (think of a certain Captain portrayed by William Shatner in the 60's through the 90's).
1995 was the first year the Shuttle (Atlantis) docked with the Soviet Space Station Mir.
The International Space Station construction began in 1997.
The Mobile Launch pad that the shuttles launch from move at approximately 1mph when the shuttle is loaded on it.
The main company/provider of the shuttles is Rockwell International.
It takes approximately 8 minutes for the Shuttle to accelerat to roughly 17,000 mph.
The Shuttle weighs approximately 14% of a train engine, yet delivers the horsepower of close to 40 locomotives.
The liquid hydrogen used to power the shuttle main engine is stored at -253 degrees C (-423 degrees F). When burned, it heats to over 3000 degrees C (6000 degrees F).
A stacked up booster is approximately the same height as the Statue of Liberty (minus the pedestal base under "Lady Liberty").
The Endeavour cost $2.1 billion.
Total Weight at lift-off: up to 4.5 million pounds.
Maximum Payload Weight is 59,000 pounds.
Space Shuttle System Length is 184 feet.
The Orbiter is 122 feet long, with a wingspan of 78 feet.
(more info: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/news/facts/shuttlefacts-toc.html)
I remember watching these shuttles take off and land as a kid and I will never forget the days that Challenger and Columbia were lost. I will miss watching them take off and land, as well as watching just how fast they move through the sky.
There are 2 more shuttle flights total, before the program ends later this year. Discovery is expected to take off on its last flight in mid-September with Endeavour taking off in November for its last flight.
I know NASA is still working on the "Constellation Program", but that will not be operational until 2015 for the first manned mission, assuming it is still receiving funding. Funding past 2010 is in a bit of "limbo" for next year.
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