OT - Last Space Shuttle set to launch at 11:26 am EST

Submitted by Space Coyote on July 8th, 2011 at 8:14 AM

The last NASA Space Shuttle ever, STS-135 Atlantis, is set to launch today at 11:26 am EST.  This is a very historic event, and I urge everyone to tune in and watch.  I know there are a lot of political things that can be said one way or the other in regards to this being the last mission, but please don't say them here.

Again, I urge you to tune in (though there is currently only a 30% chance of it happening today), there are many places to watch it.  The link below is probably the easiest




July 8th, 2011 at 8:21 AM ^

Very interesting.  Will they rely on other countries to bring supplies to the space station?  Do you know if there will still be American astronauts on the space station?  Anyway, thanks for sharing.


July 8th, 2011 at 8:51 AM ^

SpaceX's Dragon will be man-rated likely within about 3 years or so.  NASA is having a legally-required competition this year to select the company(ies) that will develop commercial, "man-rated" (astronaut-capable) ferries to the ISS.  The 4 likely competitors will be:

-- SpaceX

-- Boeing (recycling the just-cancelled Orion spaceship)

-- Blue Origin (which bought the intellectual property to Lockheed's cancelled "Delta Clipper" and X-33 program) and

-- Sierra Nevada (trying to develop SpaceDev's "New Sheppard" spaceplane).

Look for SpaceX and Boeing, at least, to win contracts.  I have no idea how far away Orion is, but Dragon has already orbited and splashed down perfectly (this past December), so there is no major development left to put an astronaut in it.  Elon Musk said an astronaut would have had a very smooth ride on that flight.  They need to finish the escape system, and have the life support systems tested and licensed, but those are more bells-and-whistles than anything else -- they have already achieved all the major tasks.  So SpaceX is a lock to get this done.

Blue Origin is highly secretive, they've been working away behind closed doors.  But the few times they speak to the press, they talk about "step by step" and slow progress.  Maybe they can get suborbital within a couple years or so, but getting to orbit is probably 10+ years away for them.  The materials they need to make their vehicle work are just killer, they need super-lightweight but super-strong plastics and composites that just don't exist yet.


July 8th, 2011 at 9:13 AM ^

Lots of issues left to resolve in the commercialization program. The 1100-series requirements for human space flight that NASA is putting forward need to be refined, and by statute the FAA, not NASA, will be the final arbiter of who is, and who is not, able to ferry passengers. I have a feeling the turf battles are just starting.

I agree that SpaceX is well out in front at this point. They're pretty well funded, have a working prototype, and have made the strategic decision to build out most of their own infrastructure and capabilities independent of NASA, (although they were pretty reliant on NASA for launch control help just a day before last December's flight). Nevertheless, certainly the odds-on favorite to get it done. I've had a couple of long conversations with Ken Bowersox, their VP-Business Development, on these issues.

The others are a mixed bag. Sierra Nevada's model is to work on the vehicle, but they are more reliant on existing NASA capabilities (such as launch and mission ops). Blue Origin - who knows? Maybe they've got the best idea, but they're a ways off from something that will fly. And I think Boeing and Sierra Nevada are both counting on the development of new launch vehicles (or a man-rated Delta) to get their space craft into orbit. Most of these are not questions that will have satisfactory answers in under 3 years.


July 8th, 2011 at 8:26 AM ^

I know you said 'not' to bring in politics, but that was only upside to Bush.  He was like a kid with a multi-billion dollar space program.  If we had kept him a few more terms, we'd be colonizing Jupiter...


July 8th, 2011 at 8:27 AM ^

Last space shuttle mission ever?!?

I don't watch much T.V. and I never watch the news, can someone fill me in on the whys and wherefores of this being the last mission without going "all political" as the O.P. requested?


July 8th, 2011 at 8:41 AM ^


NASA's budget was slashed because of the end of the Shuttle flights, not the other way around. Following the Columbia accident, two reviews, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and the Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee (also called the "Augustine Panel", after its chair, Norm Augustine) recommended that the Shuttle program be ended so that NASA could focus on its exploration mission. (Insert NASA attempts at a Shuttle replacement here; long, long story). With the end of the Shuttle, given the nation's fiscal problems, and lacking a clear mission from the Administration or Congress, NASA's budget is being cut.


July 8th, 2011 at 9:11 AM ^

Here are just the plain facts.

Space Shuttle simply is too expensive to continue, in light of other budget demands.  Each launch costs, in total, over $1 billion (with a "b").  NASA's entire annual budget is like $12-14B, so they can't afford 5-6 flights a year.  With the ISS now effectively finished, Shuttle ran out of purposes.  Why spend $1 billion to launch a satellite when a booster can do it for $100-150M, when the Shuttle is 10X more risky too.

So NASA decided the "next big thing" would be a Lunar mission in 20 years, to build the basis for Mars within 10 years after that.  They needed a vehicle system to do it, and came up with the Constellation program.  It was a rocket, the Ares, which was to be basically a Shuttle solid rocket booster, with a new spaceshit, the Orion, on top of it.  Orion looks like the Apollo space capsule with 4 seats (up from 3) and color TV screens.  Maybe they'd be touch screen, that would have been nice.

Anyway, Constellation had a price tag over $100 billion (with a "b") and it was already over budget and behind schedule after a few years.

The Obama Administration -- again, not being political, just stating the facts -- decided to take another approach.  They cancelled Constellation, and decided to fund commercial efforts to build spacecraft.  See my other post about SpaceX etc.  The Orion is not completely dead -- NASA is still funding it to be a "life boat" for the ISS, and Boeing is going to use the work on Ares to date as the basis for their commercial spaceship.



July 8th, 2011 at 12:40 PM ^

As a public policy student who has never been on this subject before, who sets NASA's mission planning goals? Is it done independently by NASA pending approval or is it set by advisors at the WH/Congress?

In other words, how autonomous is NASA in mission planning and long-term goal setting?


July 8th, 2011 at 8:35 AM ^

Great, since NASA is no longer going into space there won't be any astronauts.  At least we'll still have Ben Affleck to save us if an asteroid is coming to destroy the earth.


July 8th, 2011 at 8:38 AM ^

I can see the launches from my house but if you go on the beach you can make out the fire . Its pretty amazing and I live far away from the launches and the view is still awesome.


July 8th, 2011 at 9:30 AM ^

I'm MGoBoarding from next to the VAB down here at the Cape.
<br>Hoping that the weather cooperates one last time. Go Atlantis!
<br>And concerning CCDev... If you really believe that, I have some swampland in Arkansas I'd like to sell you.


July 8th, 2011 at 9:40 AM ^

and can see the launch from work. HOWEVA, there is a good amount of cloud cover today, so if it does launch I will not be able to see it. The same thing happened w Endeavor, it was cloudy and I couldn't see anything.


July 8th, 2011 at 10:11 AM ^

Also heard that Nasa is intending to retire the antiquated space shuttle. So this is the last time you'll see the shuttle take off, but not the end of American space exploration. 

Gonna tune in around that time to watch history. 


July 8th, 2011 at 11:29 AM ^

All of the major initiatives for space exploration sound pretty cool, but what most people don't know is that most of our missions, telescopes, satellites, etc. in the upcoming future will be intiated via punt by the Space Emperor of Space.

The Shredder

July 8th, 2011 at 12:05 PM ^

I love space(the topic). I hope to see us land on mars one day. It was awesome watching it launch in HD. Then it cut back to Price is Right.. 

Thanks for all the info from the space experts. 


July 8th, 2011 at 12:24 PM ^

The mood around NASA today is pretty bittersweet, at least from what I've seen so far. Granted, I'm not at one of the locations where a ton of shuttle work happens, but everyone is excited/relieved/bummed all at the same time.


July 8th, 2011 at 12:25 PM ^

Since space policy has been much the same for the past 20-30 years, I don't think it's being too political to say America has really screwed the pooch when it comes to space exploration, and continues to do so.  It's not just an Obama thing, it's a thing in general.  We've had too many very beneficial technological advances come from the space program to abandon manned exploration of the moon and Mars the way we have.


July 8th, 2011 at 3:37 PM ^

I have my own ideas about where the money should come from, but that would be political.  Let's just say I think it's something that should be funded by our government and that it should be higher on the money food chain than it is.  In terms of percentage of the total federal budget, NASA receives less than 14% of what it got at its peak.


July 8th, 2011 at 5:55 PM ^

It also disappoints me when I hear concerns about losses to the NASA budget now.  The shuttle program was slated to end 7+ years ago, and as you stated, the current situation has been a long time in the making.  During that time there seemed little public or mainstream political support for NASA, its budget, or its projects .  America has indeed screwed the pooch.  


July 8th, 2011 at 12:38 PM ^

Having interned and getting research funding for NASA for several years now, it has been rumored within NASA that this is, in fact, NOT the last shuttle mission.  Its not on the schedule yet, but they are hoping to send up one more mission in the fall.  So there will likely be one more shuttle launch.


July 10th, 2011 at 5:35 PM ^

I don't know about this.  It might be hard to launch a shuttle without any external tanks.  They shut down that factory, and it will take a chunk of money to get it up and going again (50 mil, I believe).  Also, all grounded shuttles are already getting prepped for museums, and all the shuttle money has been allocated for other NASA projects.  For all intents and purposes, the space shuttle is dead.