For the last time in history, a Space Shuttle will be launched today in T minus 10 minutes. That is, at 11.26 EST. Watch it happening, if weather permits, live here!
- Update: The weather risk is deemed ‘acceptable’, so they’re gonna pull of!
- Update: Succesful lift-off! What a sight.
At approximately 11:26 ET today, if weather permits, space shuttle Atlantis will embark on the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Atlantis is scheduled to go on a 12-day mission, carrying only four astronauts (compared to the usual crew of six or seven). During the mission, it will visit the International Space Station, drop off about 9,500 supplies and spare parts and conduct an experiment to test new refueling and repair technology for satellites in orbit.
The weather forecast is far from optimal though — showers and thunderstorms could be present in the launch area, and NASA says there’s a 70% chance of delay. If that happens, NASA will have another opportunity for launch on Saturday and Sunday, when the weather forecast is slightly better.
Space shuttle Endeavour, which successfully ended its last mission on June 1, was to be the last aircraft in NASA’s space shuttle program, but another mission was approved in October 2010.
The Atlantic once again has a wonderful and gorgeous picture collection, this time about the history of the Space Shuttle. The picture above is the original Star Trek crew attending the first presentation of the first Shuttle, named Enterprise, in 1976.
Today, it’s 50 years ago that the first human being was launched into space. Arguably one of the biggest single events in history. On April 12, 1961, farmer’s son Yuri Gagarin boarded the Soviet Union Vostok 1 spacecraft, was shot into the sky, and became the first human ever to witness the Earth as a blue globe, to experience weightlessness, and to experience the pitch-black universe first-hand. To be that kind of person, well, there are no words to describe what that must be.
I think it was the Dutch Volkskrant that this weekend had a nice story in the science pages about the events leading up to the mission. In classic Soviet style, everything was rushed and rambled on all sides, as rumor had it that the Americans would launch a man into space by the end of April. They really did not have much of an idea how the human body would react to the conditions of outer space – weightlessness and cosmic radiation – and although some animals, plants and pieces of human skin had been shot into orbit earlier on, it was still an epic gamble. Gagarin himself only knew three days beforehand that he was chosen to perform the mission, apparently in the end having been chosen by Chrustchev himself because of his peasant origins. And then they still had to fit the space suits and adjust the craft and everything. In other words, it was a ramshackle undertaking and Gagarin, I guess, is lucky to have survived, but it bloody worked: they shot a person into space!
In honor of this historical event, film maker Christopher Riley, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the astronauts of the International Space Station (ISS), has made a movie recreating Yuri Gagarin’s space trip. Combined with historical footage, it documents what Gagarin must have seen and felt aboard that spaceship, and then rounding the planet for the first time.
From the website:
To mark this historic flight we have teamed up with the astronauts onboard the International Space Station to film a new view of what Yuri would have seen as he travelled around the planet.
Weaving these new views together with historic voice recordings from Yuri’s flight and an original score by composer Philip Sheppard, we have created a spellbinding film to share with people around the World on this historic anniversary.
And the film’s free on YouTube! First Orbit. So here it is, enjoy! In remembrance of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
If you’re interested, here’s more about the making-of. And via Nerdcore, here’s some more about Gagarin’s last words before lift-off. Apparently he was keen of making sure that he had enough sausage on the way back.
Gagarin at one point is told to rip off some adhesive tape and adjust a piece of equipment because “we forgot to tape that thing”.
He is later told that access hatch would have to be readjusted because “one of the contacts failed to light up” on the mission control panel.
Gagarin appeared to take everything in stride and began happily reporting all he saw once his spacecraft was finally aloft.
Various historians noted that one of the Soviet officials’ biggest fears was that their cosmonaut would lose consciousness once he became weightless.
“The sensation of weightlessness feels nice,” Gagarin reported to ground control at one point. “Everything is swimming.”
The BBC has a nice picture series of the early days of spaceflight. Well worth a browse.
Today, the Space Shuttle Discovery has departed from the International Space Station (ISS), heading home on her final mission. The Atlantis and Endeavour will retire later this year, and with that, after 30 years, the Space Shuttle program comes to an end…
Really sad, as it basically means the end to the era of manned spaceflight that started in the early 1960s. There are no real successors to the Space Shuttles, and Obama apparently thinks that the discovery of space is not very important. The ISS will be decommissioned too soon enough, and it is questionable to which extent commercial spaceflight will be a replacement. So that was that. No more manned spaceflight, in the 21st century.
This video, although really cool, therefore makes me pretty sad. It’s the voice of Captain James T. Kirk, set to the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Won second place in NASA’s public song contest, and was the wakeup call for the astronauts on Day 12 of the mission.