Ten years ago, the last shuttle mission (STS-135) dropped out of the predawn darkness and landed at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility Runway 15 for the final time.
Over the course of the more than eight days, Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim had spent much of their time delivering a stockpile of supplies and parts to the space station.
The end of their mission aboard Atlantis may have been the end of the shuttle era, but it was the beginning of a new stage of exploration.
Nobody knew where we would be 10 years ago. It got really quiet here at the Kennedy Space Center. But I don’t think anyone really could have envisioned where we are today.
And liftoff! Liftoff! Liftoff!
July 8, 2011 Today, weather permitting, Atlantis will display its power and spectacle one last time under the direction of flight director Richard Jones.
The shuttle was sort of iconic. You know, there weren’t many spaceships that looked like it. There weren’t any that landed like it. And I think it had become sort of so commonplace. Yeah, you know, the shuttle flies six times a year. It has done it ever since I was a little kid or even before I was born. And I think it just became a bit of a surprise to the world that, wow, it’s not going to fly anymore.
Here’s our commander, Chris Ferguson. He’s in the suit up room. Going over to pilot Doug Hurley. And here is mission specialist number one, Sandy Magnus. This is Rex Walheim. He’s our mission specialist number two. He’s making his third space flight. He spent more than 24 days in space.
It was a real honor to be a part of the last shuttle mission, STS- 135, because it was such an important mission from the viewpoint of really showcasing what the shuttle program accomplished during its 30 or so years.
And here they come.
I was looked upon a shuttle flight is like preparing for Christmas. You know, all the work is done ahead of time. You know, all the shopping and the cooking. And that’s what the training is like. You know, when you launch, it’s like Christmas Day. You get – if you did everything the right way, preparing for it, it’s all fun.
Jones has already polled his team for a go for launch from a systems perspective, as has the International Space Station flight control team led today by flight director Emily Nelson.
This is an incredibly experienced and dedicated team that gets the people on the orbiter.
OK, Fergie, we’re starting to feel pretty good down here on the ground about this one today. So on behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of a true American icon.
Let’s light this fire one more time Mike and witness this great nation at it’s best. The crew of Atlantis is ready for launch.
T minus 35, 33 …
Clock will hold at T minus 31 seconds due to a failure.
And all of a sudden at 31 seconds, it’s like, oh, we’re stopping. And we all looked around like, huh? What do you mean we’re stopping? You don’t stop. We have 31 seconds to lifting off. What had happened was that the little beanie cap that sits on top of the external tank, you know, they get that out of the way so we can launch. And when they moved it out of the way, there was a microswitch that was supposed to tell the launch control center, “Hey, I’m out of the way. It’s safe to launch.” And that microswitch had failed so the launch control center wasn’t sure if it was out of the way or not.
The OTC says we need to verify using a camera.
But it’s just amazing how seamlessly the entire ground game team ended up covering it and we ended up launching just a few minutes late.
This is CMC, we verify – retracted.
It’s like, oh, wait, we’re launching!
Nine, eight, seven, six … [Roar of engines igniting] All three engines up and burning … two, one, zero and liftoff, the final liftoff of Atlantis on the shoulders of the space shuttle, America will continue the dream.
Roll Program, Houston. Roger, roll Atlantis.
Atlantis, station on the big loop, we have you in sight. Excellent. We’ll be there soon.
Every time I was in the shuttle and we were rendezvous and docking to the space station. Every time I was awestruck because it starts out as this distant point of light. And then you keep getting closer and closer. It’s getting bigger and bigger. And it’s like, wow, look what we did. This is a monster building that we’ve built in space.
Atlantis, Aladdin, welcome to the International Space Station for the last time.
Big ol’ Russian hug. How you doing guys?
The crew is just wonderful. We got along really well. You know, I think we laughed at each other and we knew when it was time to work and we knew when it was time to, you know, relax.
This is President Obama. Who am I talking to?
Hello, Mr. President. You’re talking to the Increment 28 crew and the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis.
Oh, that’s funny see, because I was just dialing out for pizza. I just want to say how proud I am of all of you. Congratulations to NASA, to all our international partners and all the personnel past and present who’ve spent countless hours and untold effort making the space shuttle and the International Space Station a unique part of our history.
Transfer’s the name of the game today, as it will be for the next several days, as the crew presses ahead to complete the transfer of almost five tons of supplies from Raffaello to the International Space Station that will help fortify the complex for the next 12 months.
I have never been so busy my whole entire life just executing that mission on orbit. We worked really hard, but we had a lot of good time while we’re doing it.
Good morning, Houston. We’re getting ready for undock today. We get to do one last lap with Atlantis around the ISS and then start our trip home.
Atlantis departing the International Space Station for the last time.
There was one night before we landed, we had all of our tasks done. We were ready the next day to deorbit and come home. And the four of us had an opportunity to hang out in the flight deck and watch the world go by and that’s where we had a chance to really focus on, wow, this is, you know, the last night a space shuttle is going to be on orbit.
It’s kind of interesting to be here on the final night of a shuttle mission. Don’t quite know what to think. We’re just trying to take it all in.
There was a little part of me that was sad. I thought this is an amazing vehicle. You know, here it is – It’s sort of fed us and sustained us and it got to it in space safely. And it’s going to take us home tomorrow safely. And it’s just a shame to put it to bed. You know, there’s just it seems like there’s so much more life in it, but we understand all good things do come to an end.
July 21, 2011 Atlantis, Houston, you are go for the deorbit burn. And you can maneuver on time.
Landing gear down and locked.
Main gear touchdown.
Hurley now deploying the drag chute …
Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, its place in history secured, the space shuttle pulls into port for the last time, its voyage at an end.
[engines power down]
Well, you’re always relieved that your mission went well and then you got everything done everybody wanted to get done, so there was relief, but I remember we sat there when we landed and none of us wanted to move (laughs) because we knew that was it. The minute we left the shuttle, you know, and got out of our suits, that it was all over. And we’re just kind of looking around, OK, who’s going to move first? (laughs) Nobody wanted to move. (laughs)
Mission complete, Houston after serving the world for over 30 years the space shuttle earned its place in history and has come to a final stop.
We copy your wheels stop and we’ll take this opportunity to congratulate you, Atlantis, as well as the thousands of passionate individuals across this great space-faring nation who truly empower this incredible spacecraft, which for three decades has inspired millions around the globe. Job well done, American.
You know, it’s interesting to be, I guess, a sort of a leader in the Boeing company with the ability to influence not only the design of a spacecraft, but also have an opportunity to talk to a lot of our young engineers. You know, after we successfully complete OFT-2 you know, then all eyes are on flying the crew next. And that’s going to be really exciting. We’re looking forward to that.
We’ve got SpaceX flying people. We’ve got two companies ready to do suborbital business here soon. We’ve got the Artemis I launch in the near future. I mean, there’s so many things that are now that, after this decade, ready to emerge and really, I think, excite the public about all the great things we’re doing in space.
You know, the space shuttle changed the way we view the world and it’s changed the way we view our universe. It’s a lot of emotion today, but one thing is indisputable – America’s not gonna stop exploring. Thank you, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor and our ship, Atlantis. Thank you for protecting us and bringing this program to such a fitting end. God bless all of you, God bless the United States of America.