Video: Watch NASA's final shuttle mission

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updated 7/11/2011 11:26:56 PM ET 2011-07-12T03:26:56

The International Space Station got a year's worth of groceries in a giant shopping cart on Monday, courtesy of the astronauts on NASA's final shuttle flight.

Astronauts Sandra Magnus and Douglas Hurley used the space station's hulking robot arm to hoist the bus-size container out of Atlantis' payload bay and attach it to the orbiting outpost.

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The canister — 21 feet long and 15 feet across (6.4 meters long, 4.6 meters across) — is jammed with nearly 5 tons of household goods, enough to keep the 245-mile-high (400-kilometer-high) station and its inhabitants going for another year. Food alone accounted for more than a ton. Clothes also were stuffed inside the Italian-built cylinder, named Raffaello, as well as spare parts for the station.

"Take care and let us know if we can do anything from down here," Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, a former space station resident, radioed from the European Space Agency's control center in Germany.

"Ciao, buddy," space station astronaut Michael Fossum replied.

Speeding ahead of schedule, the astronauts opened the hatch and entered Raffaello a few hours later; white bags were stacked high on all sides.

First on the unpacking list were so-called crew preference items, said flight director Jerry Jason. The six space station residents already received a bag of fresh fruit — the shuttle astronauts hand-delivered that immediately after Sunday's docking — and were promised extra jars of peanut butter.

Lots of good news
The astronauts got a quadruple dose of good news Monday. Atlantis' crew gets an extra day at the space station; the shuttle is in excellent shape; a piece of space junk is no longer a threat; and a critical computer is running normally after being knocked offline.

"These guys have been outstanding house guests. ... they can stay as long as they want," said space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr.

The shuttle has only a few spots of extremely minor launch damage, and the astronauts can forgo any further inspections until after next week's undocking, mission managers decided Monday.

"The team has been ... very committed to this idea of finishing strong. It's not just a mantra for us," mission management team chairman LeRoy Cain told reporters.

Image: Raffaello move
NASA
The International Space Station's robotic arm grapples the Raffaello cargo module and hoists it from the shuttle Atlantis' payload bay for attachment to the station.

On Sunday, flight controllers were worried a piece of space junk might pass dangerously close Tuesday, right in the middle of the lone spacewalk planned for the mission. But on Monday, experts said the object — a piece of an old Soviet-era satellite — would remain a safe 11 miles (18 kilometers) away, and the shuttle-station complex would not need to dodge it.

Sunday's docking by Atlantis actually bumped the joined vessels into an out-of-harm's-way orbit.

Space junk is said to be the No. 1 threat facing the space station in the coming decade. More than 500,000 pieces of orbiting debris are being tracked, according to NASA. Two weeks ago, the space station residents had to seek shelter in their lifeboats when a piece of junk came within 1,100 feet (335 meters) — the closest encounter yet.

Atlantis blasted off Friday. The flight, now at 13 days, is due to end July 21; touchdown will close out the 30-year shuttle program.

Unpacking and taking out the trash
All 10 astronauts will spend the next week unloading the contents of Raffaello and filling the chamber back up with packing material, and space station garbage and old equipment.

Flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said the back-and-forth load work by the astronauts will be like an army of ants moving in and out of their anthill.

NASA wants the space station well-stocked for the looming post-shuttle era. Private companies are working on rockets and spacecraft to deliver cargo, but that's still months away and there's always the chance of delays.

The ultimate goal — in three to five years — is for these same companies to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. Until then, NASA will keep shelling out tens of millions of dollars per seat aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The two U.S. space station residents, meanwhile, will venture out on a spacewalk Tuesday. Fossum and Garan will retrieve a broken ammonia pump and stash it aboard Atlantis. Engineers want to figure out why it failed last summer, crippling the space station's cooling system for more than two weeks. The pair also will attach a robotic refueling experiment to the space station.

Four astronauts are flying on Atlantis — the smallest shuttle crew in decades — and six on the space station. They represent the United States, Russia and Japan.

Magnus, the lone woman on board, dug out the striped fuzzy socks she wore during her four-month space station stay more than two years ago. She wiggled her toes in front of the cameras.

"I'd like to announce the return of the socks," she said. "Just a little nostalgia there for a moment."

Atlantis is the last of NASA's three remaining shuttles to be retired, as the space agency turns its focus on expeditions to an asteroid and Mars. It will remain at Kennedy Space Center upon its return and be put on public display.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: The final countdown: Shuttle Atlantis

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  1. Atlantis rising

    The space shuttle Atlantis makes its maiden voyage on Oct. 3, 1985, for the Defense Department's STS-51-J mission. At 176,413 pounds, Atlantis is nearly 3.5 tons lighter than Columbia, which was the heaviest shuttle. Atlantis is the lightest shuttle of the remaining fleet, weighing 3 pounds less than the shuttle Endeavour (with the three main engines). Atlantis is also the last space shuttle to be retired.

    Other statistics:
    Length: 122.17 feet
    Height: 56.58 feet
    Wingspan: 78.06 feet (Phil Sandlin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. First of its kind

    NASA's Magellan spacecraft is deployed from Atlantis' cargo bay in 1989 during the STS-30 mission. The Venus orbiter was the first interplanetary probe launched from a space shuttle. Later that year, Atlantis launched the Galileo probe to Jupiter. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mission to Mir

    NASA and the Russian space agency kicked off a new era in international space cooperation during the STS-71 mission in June 1995, when Atlantis docked with Russia's Mir space station for the first time. This historic photo of the linked spacecraft was taken from a Russian Soyuz capsule during a fly-around. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Here's looking at you

    The space shuttle Atlantis begins the slow journey to Launch Pad 39A from the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in preparation for the launch of STS-79 in September 1996. This dramatic view, looking directly down onto the shuttle stack, was taken from the roof of the 525-foot-tall VAB. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Science in orbit

    Astronaut Shannon Lucid floats through the tunnel that connects Spacelab to Atlantis' cabin on Sept. 24, 1996. The Spacelab module rode in the shuttle's cargo bay and provided more space for scientific experiments. During this STS-79 mission, Atlantis linked up with Russia's Mir space station and brought Lucid back to Earth. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Lighting up the night

    Atlantis streaks into the early morning sky from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 15, 1997, as seen in this long-exposure photo taken from Veterans Memorial Park in Titusville, Fla. Atlantis' 10-day STS-84 mission featured a docking with Russia's Mir space station and a crew transfer. Atlantis docked with Mir seven times before the space station was deorbited in 2001. (Brian Cleary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Good as new

    The space shuttle Atlantis went back to its assembly plant in Palmdale, Calif., for 10 months of refurbishment and upgrades in 1997-1998. This aerial photo shows Atlantis taking a piggyback ride back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified Boeing 747 jet on Sept. 1, 1998. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Checking it out

    Atlantis' upgraded cockpit gets a once-over in 1999 from engineers and executives, including Roy Bridges, Kennedy Space Center's director (seated at bottom left), as well as Laural Patrick, Joann Morgan and George Selina. The upgrades made Atlantis the most modern orbiter in the shuttle fleet, with a control system as advanced as those found on commercial jet airliners and military aircraft. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Tile tune-up

    Izeal Battle, a worker from United Space Alliance, repairs heat-shield tiles on the belly of the space shuttle Atlantis in the Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 30, 2004. (Matt Stroshane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Back in business

    Atlantis' astronauts leave their quarters at Kennedy Space Center and board the "Astrovan" for the ride out to Launch Pad 39B on Sept. 8, 2006, while gun-toting guards keep watch. A faulty fuel gauge grounded the shuttle for an extra day, but on Sept. 9 the shuttle lifted off on its STS-115 mission to the International Space Station. It marked Atlantis' first launch since 2002. (Jeff Haynes / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Liftoff!

    The space shuttle Atlantis rises on a pillar of cloud from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 9, 2006. Atlantis delivered structural components to the International Space Station during its STS-115 mission, resuming an orbital construction project that was stopped following the 2003 Columbia tragedy. (Matt Stroshane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mission accomplished

    The clouds of Earth provide a backdrop for Atlantis shortly after its departure from the International Space Station on Sept. 17, 2006. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Night landing

    Atlantis lands amid darkness at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 21, 2006, bringing the STS-115 space station construction mission to a successful close. (Chris O'Meara / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Kicking the tires

    Atlantis crew members Chris Ferguson and Dan Burbank look over their spaceship after landing at Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 21, 2006. Ferguson was slated to be Atlantis' commander for NASA's final space shuttle mission. (Pierre Ducharme / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Blaze of glory

    The space shuttle Atlantis' solid rocket boosters light up for launch on June 8, 2007, beginning a flight to the International Space Station. This STS-117 mission marked the 250th orbital human spaceflight. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Watching the ascent

    NASA mission managers monitor Atlantis' liftoff from Firing Room 4 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 16, 2009. During the STS-129 mission, Atlantis delivered a payload platform and vital supplies to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Shuttle skywriting

    Nearly an hour after launch, contrails from the shuttle Atlantis' liftoff float above the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 8, 2007. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Last visit to Hubble

    Spacewalkers Andrew Feustel and John Grunsfeld work on the Hubble Space Telescope on May 16, 2009, during Atlantis' STS-125 mission. This marked the final Hubble servicing mission. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Making a list

    Atlantis astronaut Mike Massimino writes notes on a checklist during the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission on May 18, 2009. During this mission, Massimino became the first astronaut to send a Twitter update from orbit: "Launch was awesome!!" (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. First Family meets Atlantis

    NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi leads President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia beneath the shuttle Atlantis during a tour of the Orbiter Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on April 29, 2011. At the time, Atlantis was being prepared for its final flight. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Final flight

    Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8, 2011. The shuttle fleet's 135th and final mission, known as STS-135, brought supplies to the international space station. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Witnessing history

    Spectators watch the liftoff of Atlantis on its final mission at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8, 2011. (Shawn Thew / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Last rendezvous

    The space shuttle Atlantis docks with the International Space Station for the last time on July 10, 2011. The shuttle delivered more than four tons of food, clothes and other supplies to keep the space station going in the post-shuttle era. NASA figures that this shipment will help keep the space station provisioned at least through the end of 2012. (NASA TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Flight into history

    This poster pays tribute to the shuttle Atlantis' quarter-century of spaceflight: Graphic elements include the International Space Station and Russia's Mir space station, the Hubble Space Telescope (which Atlantis visited during the last servicing mission) and Venus and Jupiter (which were the destinations for probes launched from Atlantis). Threaded through the design are the mission patches for each of Atlantis' flights. A copy of this tribute poster hangs in Firing Room 4 of the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Amy Lombardo / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. An unprecedented view of the space shuttle Atlantis, appearing like a bean sprout against clouds and city lights, on its way home, as photographed by the Expedition 28 crew of the International Space Station on July 21, 2011. Airglow over Earth can be seen in the background. The Atlantis returned to Earth marking the end of the space shuttle era when its wheels touched down for the last time at the Kennedy Space Centre. 'After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It's come to a final stop,' Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson replied. (Nasa / Handout / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Johnson Space Center employees Shelley Stortz, left, and Jeremy Rea, right, hold hands as they watch space shuttle Atlantis land on July 21, 2011, in Houston. (David J. Phillip / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Space shuttle Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 21, 2011. The Atlantis glided home through a moonlit sky for its final landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing a 30-year odyssey for NASA's shuttle fleet. (Pierre Ducharme / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Phil Sandlin / AP
    Above: Slideshow (27) Final countdown for Atlantis
  2. Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News, PoliticalCartoons.com
    Slideshow (13) Shuttle era draws to a close
  3. Image:
    Y. Beletsky / ESO
    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014

Interactive: Final shuttle mission in focus

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