The last flight of the space shuttle in a science farewell special
by LORENZO CIOTTI | VIEW 14
Space Shuttle Atlantis has retired after 40 years of activity and 135 flights in space. The spacecraft has landed for the last time to close the most important and glorious space program since man's moon landing. The landing took place at the Kennedy Space Center Atlantis.
Fueled by the Cold War and the struggle with other super powers, the conquest of space has also always been used to increase popularity, the esteem of a nation or for military purposes. Thus ended the adventure of his glorious career on 8 July 2011, with a special scientific farewell.
Flying the Atlantis were Commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magus and Rex Walheim, all US and all veterans. They were the last astronauts to fly on the shuttle after their 30-year career.
Nasa said: ''The end of the Space Shuttle program it doesn't mean the end of NASA, or the end of manned NASA expeditions. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technological development and scientific research that will continue over the next few years."
Some details about the space shuttle
The vehicle is assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and then transported, by means of a mobile platform, to Launch Complex 39.
The shuttle is launched in an upright position like a conventional rocket thanks to the thrust provided by her three main engines and two lateral boosters. About two minutes after launch, the two SRBs are ejected and the shuttle continues its flight up to the expected orbit using its engines, powered by the propellant contained in the external tank.
Upon reaching orbit, the main engines are shut down and the tank left to burn in Earth's atmosphere. The shuttle is designed to reach orbits between 185 and 643 km altitude with a crew of two to seven astronauts. In the first test missions the crew consisted only of the commander and the pilot.
An orbital mission lasts an average of two weeks. The re-entry maneuver requires the shuttle to reduce its speed via the maneuvering engines until it is on a descent trajectory that allows it to pass through the various layers of the atmosphere and return to Earth.
The landing takes place without propulsion, somewhat like a glider, in a long runway at various possible sites. The Orbiter has three separate propulsion systems. The main propulsion system consists of three cryogenic rocket motors which are used only for positioning the shuttle into orbit and draw their propellant from the external tank.
Both engines of the orbital maneuvering system are used to supplement the action of the SSMEs after their shutdown and to modify the orbit during the mission. The small Reaction control systems are instead used to modify the attitude of the shuttle in orbit and for small orbital corrections.
The Space Shuttle Thermal Protection System is the heat shield that protects the Orbiter during atmospheric re-entry during a mission, when temperatures reach 1 650°C. The shuttle is able to accommodate up to 8 astronauts on two decks: one on the Flight deck and one on the Mid deck.
These two levels, plus a lower compartment, lead to a total of 72m2 available, compared to just 8.5m2 for the Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying three cosmonauts.