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Published: June 30th 2015
The Space Shuttle Program, of which Atlantis is the most traveled vehicle, owes its existence to the International Space Station (ISS). Covering about the same area as an American football field, the ISS has two Orbital Sections: American (the USOS) and Russian (the ROS). It orbits 240 miles above the Earth, has been continuously occupied by humans since 2000, and has traveled over 1.5 billion miles in orbit. For a wealth of details go to: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/more/onthestation/facts_and_figures.html
The idea of a manned Earth satellite and a reusable transport system to carry equipment and people to and fro had been tentatively explored during the Cold War: it became NASA’s main preoccupation after the final Apollo flight. Russia agreed to make it a joint venture, three other partners joined the effort (Canada, Europe and Japan), and the International Space Station was born. Ten other countries eventually became collaborators, and the development of the necessary space shuttles began.
The Atlantis is 184 ft (56 m) long x 57 ft (17 m) high, with a wingspan of 78 ft (24 m). It weighs roughly 230,000lb (104,000 kg). Its orbit above Earth is adjusted as needed, averaging about 250 miles (400 km) at a
speed of 17,321 mph (27,875 km/h). For lots more information see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle
. For mission after mission Atlantis and other Shuttles have relied on their robotic “Canadarm”, to unload and position various components of the ISS. Fifty feet (15+ m) long and 15 in (38 cm) in diameter, it weighs 900 lb (410 kg). Thanks to its 6 joints that mimic the flexibility of the human arm it can lift and manipulate into position up to 7,260 lb (3,293 kg). More information is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadarm
or at http://www.google.ca/#q=canadarm
The Shuttle Program ran from 1981 through 2011. Since then trips have been launched from Kazakhstan using Russian Soyuz rockets. Over the years both male and female astronauts/cosmonauts and civilian specialists from several countries have made the journey in the Atlantis and other shuttles. They have been greeted by ISS commanders who have been mostly American or Russian, aside from one Canadian (Colonel Chris Hadfield) and one Japanese. All commanders had served in various capacities aboard space shuttles first, sometimes more than once. Overall, the Space Shuttle Program fulfilled or exceeded all expectations, but it was not without heavy financial and human costs. In 1986 Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff,
killing all aboard, including the first American civilian, school teacher Christa McAuliffe, whose helpless students watched in horror on live TV. In 2003, just sixteen minutes from touchdown after an otherwise successful mission, Columbia disintegrated and burned up in the atmosphere, killing all on board.
Atlantis made its first trip in the 1980s; and its final one in 2011: then it was officially retired to the Kennedy Space Center, where it is the major attraction. Margo and I were able to spend an hour or two in the Atlantis exhibit, and we hope these photos will inspire you to visit the KSC too. As always, you can enlarge any photo to see the fine details by simply clicking on it.
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