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Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches On Final Flight 275

Space Shuttle Atlantis has just launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. STS-135 marks the final flight for the shuttle program, 30 years after Columbia touched the sky during STS-1. The mission summary (PDF) outlines STS-135's crew and event timeline. NASA's launch blog has been following the countdown all morning, and our own CmdrTaco has been tweeting live from on-site. NASA TV is also being streamed live. Meteorological reports for the launch looked doubtful at first, but a gap in the bad weather at just the right time allowed everything to proceed as planned. Atlantis successfully reached its preliminary orbit in what a NASA official called a "flawless" launch.
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Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches On Final Flight

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  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:51AM (#36695568) Journal

    I've watched two shuttle launches live:

    The very first, Columbia, when I was a child at a friend's house.
    The very last, today's launch.

    All the others I've only seen after the fact. I did watch a re-entry live in person once from a Cessna 172 at about 11,000 feet over the north of Houston at night. It left a plasma trail across the sky from horizon to horizon. It was funny to think when we got back to Houston Gulf airport (formerly called Spaceland, hence its identifier KSPX, sadly now demolished and covered in identikit McMansions) only 40 or so miles away, the shuttle crew had already landed in Florida, disembarked, and were probably halfway though their first cup of coffee.

  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @12:01PM (#36695766)
    Commercial space flight has no vision beyond sending tourists to LEO and throwing more satellites into higher orbits. It's never going to move beyond that on its own because the economics don't work for entities incapable of thinking that long term. Every possible monetary benefit from leaving earth orbit is so far away that no commercial entity will take it on. This is why the government needs to remain heavily involved in space exploration: if it doesn't, no one else (other than foreign governments) will.

    Retiring the shuttle program is good in some ways because it frees up resources to go for more ambitious goals like Mars and beyond. It's bad, though, in that it takes away NASA's primary method of staying in the public eye. People get excited about humans going into space. Most people don't get excited about sending robots into space. This sort of thing is important to an organization whose funding is subject to the changing political winds.

    The projects NASA has in the works sound really exciting, but with cutting cost being the name of the game in Washington these days, NASA needs all the public support it can get to keep all of its plans from dying on the vine as its budget gets eviscerated. Removing the one thing that got it on TV on a regular basis isn't a good thing in these circumstances.
  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @01:20PM (#36697024) Homepage Journal
    You said:

    Commercial space flight has no vision beyond sending tourists to LEO and throwing more satellites into higher orbits.

    Meanwhile, the founder and CEO of a commercial spaceflight company says:

    'I'm planning to retire to Mars'

    -- Elon Musk: Founder and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (Spacex) Citation: here. []

    If that's not vision, I don't know what the hell definition of vision you are using. I've personally toured the facilities of SpaceX, ULA, Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop Gruman, and JPL. I can tell you right now, the energy, enthusiasm, and drive at SpaceX is in a class of its own. That company, and its founder, has more vision for the space industry than the sum total of the other agencies I have listed combined.

    Mark my words as an aerospace engineer: SpaceX is the future of successful United States space business, and they have the gumption and drive to pull off the stuff folks have been declaring to be impossible for about twenty years now. Just like Google lit a fire under the ass of stale computer companies like Microsoft and Apple, SpaceX is going to be the spark that fans a whole new flame and era of space exploration for the United States.

  • Re:Dragon Spacecraft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday July 08, 2011 @01:37PM (#36697328) Homepage Journal

    Rockets aren't hard, launching a rocket into space isn't really hard. It's expensive, but not hard.

    Ha! Spoken like someone who has never tried to successfuly stabilize a chaotic system with over ten-thousand input variables to the dynamics model equations. Sorry geekoid, but anyone who honestly believes launching a rocket into space, a vehicle that is, quite literally, the size of a skyscraper which expends the energy of a large military warhead in a semi-controlled manner in under 5 minutes "isn't really hard," has officially lost all credibility on the topic of launch vehicles.

Think of your family tonight. Try to crawl home after the computer crashes.