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U.S. Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis lifts off from Pad 39-B through a cloud of steam for a successful launch with a crew of five aboard from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Thursday afternoon, May 4, 1989.  This mission will deploy the Magellan satellite which will map 90 percent of the planet Venus.  (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Science News

The final countdown: Shuttle Atlantis

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U.S. Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis lifts off from Pad 39-B through a cloud of steam for a successful launch with a crew of five aboard from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Thursday afternoon, May 4, 1989.  This mission will deploy the Magellan satellite which will map 90 percent of the planet Venus.  (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

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
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The Magellan spacecraft is deployed from the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS 30) in 1989. Magellan was the first planetary spacecraft launched from the Space Shuttle.

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.

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NASA and the Russian space agency kicked off a new era in international space cooperation in June of 1995, when the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time.

Atlantis' mission, STS-71, launched on June 27 and marked the 100th U.S. human space launch. Together, Atlantis and Mir became the largest combined spacecraft ever in orbit, totaling almost a half a million pounds.

For the docking, Shuttle Commander Hoot Gibson positioned Atlantis directly below Mir, so that the Earth's gravity naturally braked the orbiter's approach "up" to Mir. The final approach rate of about an inch per minute ended 216 nautical miles above Russia's Lake Baykal region, with a nearly perfect docking, off by less than one inch and one half a degree.

The Shuttle-Mir program included 11 Space Shuttle flights and 7 astronaut residencies on Mir, and helped pave the way for the International Space Station now in orbit.

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.

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The Space Shuttle Atlantis begins the slow journey to Launch Pad 39A from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in preparation for the launch of STS-79 in 16 September 1996. This dramatic view looking directly down onto the shuttle stack atop the Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP) and crawler-transporter was taken from the VAB roof approximately 525 feet (160 meters) above the ground. In view are the Orbiter, orange External Tank and twin white Solid Rocket Boosters.

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.

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383927 10: FILE PHOTO: Astronaut Shannon W. Lucid floats through the tunnel that connects Spacehab to Atlantis'' cabin, September 24, 1996. Mir is nearing the end of its existence as Russia plans to steer the craft out of orbit in late February 2001 in a controlled crash to dump the space station safely into the Pacific Ocean. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)

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.

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15 May 1997
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, UNITED STATES: The Space Shuttle Atlantis streaks into the 
early morning sky 15 May from Kennedy Space Center's pad 39-A in this time 
exposure photo take from Veterans Memorial Park in Titusville, Florida, to begin 
the sixth US docking mission to the Russian Space Station Mir. The ten-day 
STS-84 mission with an international crew of seven will deliver a new oxygen 
generator to the Russian Station, crew member Michael Foale of the US will 
replace US Astronaut Jerry Linenger for a stay on the Mir. (Photo credit should 
read BRIAN CLEARY/AFP/Getty Images)

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
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English: The Space Shuttle Atlantis atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) returns to the Kennedy Space Center after a ten month refurbishment.
1 September 1998(1998-09-01)

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.

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<HTML><META HTTP-EQUIV="content-type" CONTENT="text/html;charset=utf-8">
Inside The Orbiter Atlantis April 9, 1999, Center Director Roy Bridges (Seated 
At Bottom Left) And Associate Director For Advanced Development And Shuttle 
Upgrades Joann Morgan (Standing Second From Left) Learn About The New 
Multifunction Electronic Display Subsystem (Meds) From Laural Patrick (Standing 
Left), A Systems Engineer With Meds, And George Selina (At Right), With United 
Space Alliance. Also Called The 'Glass Cockpit,' The New Full-Color Flat Panel 
Meds Upgrade Improves Crew/Orbiter Interaction With Easy-To-Read, Graphic 
Portrayals Of Key Flight Indicators Like Attitude Display And Mach Speed. The 
Installation Makes Atlantis The Most Modern Orbiter In The Fleet And Equals The 
Systems On Current Commercial Jet Airliners And Military Aircraft. Atlantis Is 
Scheduled To Fly On Mission Sts-101 In Early December. (Photo By Nasa/Getty 
Images)

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.

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<HTML><META HTTP-EQUIV="content-type" CONTENT="text/html;charset=utf-8">
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL - JANUARY 30: Izeal Battle, a worker from United Space 
Alliance, repairs heat-sheild tiles on the belly of Space Shuttle Atlantis in 
the Orbiter Processing Facility January 30, 2004 at Kennedy Space Center, 
Florida. Atlantis is the next shuttle scheduled for flight. (Photo by Matt 
Stroshane/Getty Images)

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
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The crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis l

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
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After Delay, Space Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off

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 North America
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English: The Space Shuttle Atlantis, backdropped against clouds over Earth, is pictured after it undocked from the International Space Station at 7:50 a.m. CDT, Sept. 17, 2006. The STS-115 astronauts completed six days, two hours and two minutes of joint operations with the station crew.

Mission accomplished

The clouds of Earth provide a backdrop for Atlantis shortly after its departure from the International Space Station on Sept. 17, 2006.

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The space US Shuttle Atlantis lands earl

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.

Afp / AFP
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US space shuttle Atlantis crewmembers (L

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.

Afp / AFP
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Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off Into Space

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 North America
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NASA Prepares For Launch Of Space Shuttle Atlantis

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 / Getty Images North America
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Nearly an hour after launch, contrails f

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
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S125-E-007853 (16 May 2009) --- Astronaut Andrew Feustel, STS-125 mission specialist, navigates near the Hubble Space Telescope on the end of the remote manipulator system arm, controlled from inside Atlantis' crew cabin. Astronaut John Grunsfeld signals to his crewmate from just a few feet away. Astronauts Feustel and Grunsfeld were continuing servicing work on the giant observatory, locked down in the cargo bay of the shuttle.

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.

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http://twitter.com/#!/Astro_Mike/status/1777093627
From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!
18 May 2009) --- Astronaut Mike Massimino, STS-125 mission specialist, writes notes on a checklist on the aft flight deck of the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Atlantis during flight day eight activities.

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!!"

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Astronaut Janet Kavandi, director of Fli

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
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Image: Space Shuttle

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
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Image: USA Shuttle Atlantis Launch at Kennedy Space Center

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
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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.

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This is a printable version of space shuttle Atlantis' orbiter tribute, or OV-104, which hangs in Firing Room 4 of the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In the lower-left corner, it features Atlantis soaring above Earth and threaded through the design are the mission patches for each of Atlantis' flights. Atlantis' accomplishments include seven missions to the Russian space station Mir and several assembly, construction and resupply missions to the International Space Station. Atlantis also flew the last Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission on STS-125. In the tribute, the planet Venus represents the Magellan probe being deployed during STS-30, and Jupiter represents the Galileo probe being deployed during STS-34. The inset photos illustrate various aspects of shuttle processing as well as significant achievements, such as the glass cockpit and the first shuttle docking with Mir during STS-71. The inset photo in the upper-left corner shows a rainbow over Atlantis on Launch Pad 39A and shuttle Endeavour on Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy. Endeavour was the assigned vehicle had Atlantis' STS-125 mission needed rescue, and this was the last time both launch pads were occupied at the same time. The stars in the background represent the many people who have worked with Atlantis and their contributions to the vehicle's success. Five orbiter tributes are on display in the firing room, representing Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Endeavour and Discovery.

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
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Image: USA Shuttle Atlantis returns to Earth

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 / NASA
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Image: Shelley Stortz, Jeremy Rea watch the landing

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
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Image: Space shuttle Atlantis lands

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 / X00090
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