NASA To Launch Space Shuttle Atlantis November 16th





NASA To Launch Space Shuttle Atlantis November 16th

By Mike Mitchell
STS-129 Mission Specialist Robert L. Satcher Jr.  

October 30, 2009, Cape Canaveral, Fla. – Atlantis' launch date was announced Thursday at the conclusion of a flight readiness review at Kennedy. During the meeting, senior NASA and contractor managers assessed the risks associated with the mission and determined the shuttle's equipment, support systems and procedures are ready.

NASA's space shuttle Atlantis is targeted to begin an 11-day flight to the International Space Station with a Nov. 16 launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff is scheduled for 2:28 p.m. EST.  

The Nov. 16 target date depends on the planned Nov. 14 launch of an Atlas V rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Atlas has reserved the Eastern Range on Nov. 14 and 15. If the Atlas launch is delayed to Nov. 15, the shuttle’s liftoff will move to no earlier than 2:02 p.m. on Nov. 17.

The STS-129 mission will focus on storing spare hardware on the exterior of the space station. The flight will include three spacewalks and install two platforms on the station's truss, or backbone. The platforms will hold spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttle fleet is retired. Commander Charlie Hobaugh and his crew of five astronauts are scheduled to arrive at Kennedy at approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12, for final launch preparations.

Image above: STS-129 Mission Specialist Robert L. Satcher Jr. participates in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU, spacesuit fit check in the Space Station Airlock Test Article in the Crew Systems Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Photo credit: NASA/JSC

Joining Hobaugh on STS-129 will be Pilot Barry Wilmore and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman and Bobby Satcher. Nicole Stott, an astronaut who currently resides on the station, will return home with the Atlantis crew after living in space for more than two months. Her return on the shuttle is slated to be the final time it is used to rotate space station crew members. STS-129 will be Atlantis' 31st mission and the 31st shuttle flight dedicated to station assembly and maintenance.

Space Shuttle Atlantis (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-104) is one of the three currently operational orbiters in the Space Shuttle fleet of NASA, the space agency of the United States. (The other two are Discovery and Endeavour) Atlantis was the fourth operational shuttle built and was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in April 1985. In early 2008, NASA officials decided to keep Atlantis flying until 2010, the projected end of the shuttle program. This reversed a previous decision to retire Atlantis in 2008.  

Atlantis is named after a two-masted sailing ship that operated from 1930 to 1966 for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The 460-ton ketch was the first U.S. vessel to be used for oceanographic research, featured a crew of 17 and room for 5 scientists. The former Atlantis is now commissioned as an oceanographic research vessel in the Argentine Naval Prefecture under the name "Dr. Bernardo Houssay" and finishing a lengthy period of restoration. 

Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off on its maiden voyage on October 3, 1985, on mission STS-51-J, the second dedicated Department of Defense flight. It flew one other mission, STS-61-B, the second night launch in the shuttle program, before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster temporarily grounded the shuttle fleet in 1986. Atlantis was used for ten flights between 1988 and 1992. Two of these, both flown in 1989, deployed the planetary probes (Magellan to Venus on STS-30 and Galileo to Jupiter on STS-34).  

During another mission, STS-37 flown in 1991, Atlantis deployed the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Beginning in 1995 with STS-71, Atlantis made seven straight flights to the former Russian space station Mir as part of the Shuttle-Mir Program. When linked, Atlantis and Mir together formed the largest spacecraft in orbit at the time. Shuttle Atlantis has also delivered several vital components for the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). During the February 2001 mission STS-98 to the ISS, Atlantis delivered the Destiny Module, the primary operating facility for U.S. research payloads aboard the ISS. The Quest Joint Airlock, was flown and installed to the ISS by Atlantis during the mission STS-104 in July 2001.  

The first mission flown by Atlantis after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster was STS-115, conducted during September 2006. The mission carried the P3/P4 truss segments and solar arrays to the ISS. On ISS assembly flight STS-122 in February 2008, Atlantis delivered the Columbus laboratory to the ISS. Columbus laboratory is the largest single contribution to the ISS made by the European Space Agency (ESA). 

In May 2009 Atlantis flew a 7 member crew to the Hubble Space Telescope for its Servicing Mission 4, STS-125. The mission was a success, with the crew completing five space walks to install new cameras, batteries, a gyroscope and other components to the telescope.  Among the five space shuttles flown into space, Atlantis has conducted a subsequent mission in the shortest time after the previous mission when it launched in November, 1985 on STS-61-B, only 50 days after its previous mission, STS-51-J.

The longest mission flown using shuttle Atlantis to date is STS-117 that lasted almost 14 days in June 2007. Atlantis is not equipped to take advantage of the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System so missions cannot be extended by making use of power provided by ISS.

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