The last flight of Atlantis
Space shuttle Atlantis and six astronauts ended a journey of more than 7.5 million miles Wednesday with a touchdown at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flawless landing wrapped up a highly successful mission to deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, known as "Rassvet" ("dawn" in Russian), to the International Space Station.
This was the final scheduled flight for Atlantis, which has logged more than 120 million miles during its 25 years of service. Atlantis has a history of being the shuttle that did the most international things, it’s the orbiter that the Russians have known best, because it’s one that came to their space station most often, and it’s one that we used to deliver a module for them in the past.
Whether or not they recognize it by name, many people are likely familiar with Atlantis’ work. Besides the visits to Mir, Atlantis carried the Magellan Spacecraft into orbit, sending it on its way to Venus, where it mapped 98 percent of the planet from orbit. The same year, 1989, it also deployed the Galileo Spacecraft to Jupiter, where it collected data on the planet and its moons for eight years.
Closer to home, Atlantis has visited the International Space Station 10 times – STS-132 will be its 11th trip – delivering among other pieces of hardware, the United States’ Destiny Laboratory and Europe’s Columbus. And just last year it made the final flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, bringing upgrades that should allow the telescope to see further into the universe than ever for years to come.
In the meantime, US museums are wasting no time in competing which one will have to honour to be a new home for legendary shuttle. Kennedy Space Center is among 21 others competing institution that want to preserve and exhibit the Atlantis. NASA has announced it would seek to preserve the space shuttles for the historical record and at least 20 proposals have been submitted so far.
Eighteen astronauts wrote a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden requesting that the shuttle be housed at the US Air Force, which they noted was "instrumental in the design, development, funding and approval of the space shuttle program." The petitioners included Charles Duke, who walked on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission, and the first woman to walk on the Earth's natural satellite, Kathryn Sullivan.
The installation cost is approximately 42 million dollar. Included in the retrocession costs are 20 million dollars to cleanse the shuttle of any toxic substances, such as ammonia, monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, an operation that requires partially disassembling the spacecraft. Another eight to nine million go toward loading the enormous craft atop a Boeing 747 for delivery. However, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry estimated the true installation costs for a museum to be some 80 million dollars. ■