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The glorious saga of Atlantis

The Atlantis space shuttle has flown to space 31 times, carrying 185 crew members in its 25 years of service to NASA. A NASA photo

With a final voyage to the International Space Station on May 14, 2010, NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis is slated to gracefully bow out after rendering over two decades of service to the US space agency in many of its space missions.

Atlantis is one of the three operational orbiters NASA is presently using for conducting space missions, the other two being the Discovery and Endeavour.

All the three orbiters are scheduled to retire this year.

Atlantis (Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-104) is the fourth operational space shuttle built by NASA. The shuttle began to take shape on March 3, 1980 and rolled out from the Palmdale assembly plant in California on March 6, 1985.

Lessons learnt from the designing of NASA's previous orbiters helped in keeping Atlantis in a lighter shape. It weighed nearly 3.5 tons less than space shuttle Columbia.

On October 3, 1985, Atlantis began its first space journey from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft carried the STS 51-J, with a classified payload for the US Department of Defense (DoD). The vehicle then went on to carry four more DoD payloads later on.

During its 25 years of service, Atlantis has conducted a total of 31 space flights; remained in orbit for 282 days; travelled a total distance of 116 million miles; made 4,462 Earth orbits; and carried 185 crew members to space. The last mission is set to add 12 days, 186 orbits, 4 million miles and four astronauts to this glorious list.

The space shuttle has also been the on-orbit launch platform for many spacecraft, including Magellan spacecraft sent to Venus, Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. The shuttle also conducted the last mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in May, 2009.

In its final voyage to the ISS, Atlantis will take the six-member STS-132 crew who will deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, ‘Rassvet’, to the orbital station which would provide additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.

The astronauts will conduct three spacewalks during the 12-day STS-132 mission.

After returning home, Atlantis will not head to the museum straightaway. NASA will keep the shuttle ready for a possible rescue mission for the Endeavour’s last flight in November, 2010.

Courtesy: NASA

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