UPDATE 2: Atlantis landing HD photos now available on NASA website.
UPDATE 1: The landing video from NASA TV is now available on NASA TV on-demand page.
Today at 15:39:05 UTC, the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed on Runway 22 at the Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California, ending a 13-day mission – the fifth and final space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). During the five spacewalks (EVA’s) the crew installed new instruments and thermal blankets, repaired two existing instruments, refurbished subsystems and replaced gyroscopes, batteries and a unit that stores and transmits science data to Earth, extending HST’s operational lifespan through at least 2014.
In the following days that space shuttle will be ferried back to Florida aboard a shuttle carrier aircraft, which is a modified Boeing 747. Atlantis is scheduled to go the ISS two more times before the shuttle program ends in 2010. The STS-129 will deliver the EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the station in November 2009 and the STS-132 will bring the Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) and the Mini Research Module (MRM1) in May 2010.
About 2 hours before the 2nd and 3rd landing opportunities (one in California and one in Florida during the orbit #197) NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson took off in the Shuttle Training Aircraft from Edwards in California to evaluate weather conditions for a possible landing at the Edwards Air Force Base. The plane is equipped with the same instruments as the space shuttle and the computers on board can adjust the plane’s maneuverability to mimic that of the space shuttle during landing.
At 14:03 UTC the Mission Control waved off the opportunity for landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Cape Canaveral in Florida due to poor weather. The entry team worked extremely hard to bring Atlantis to KSC, but the weather was too dynamic in Florida to make a call an hour and half before landing. At 14:09 UTC Atlantis got a “go” for the de-orbit burn to land at the Edwards AFB in California. Astronaut Chris Ferguson flying the Shuttle Training Aircraft reported pristine weather conditions throughout the area, i.e. “a beautiful day in the desert”.
The crew executed the de-orbit burn at 15:24:41 UTC lasting 2 minutes and 36 seconds slowing the orbiter down by about 0.14 km/sand changing its orbit from 566km by 302km to 566km by 48km. The “no action” glitch on the auxiliary power unit (APU) #2 caused by elevated pressure in the drain line but was of no concern for the landing. In the next few minutes the shuttle was rotated nose forward for the entry sequence.
At the entry phase of flight which begins approximately five minutes before entry interface (EI), the orbiter was at an altitude of about 170km traveling at 7.7km/s. The EI started at an altitude of 121.6 km when Atlantis was in the range of 7,869 km the landing site.
Veteran astronaut Scott Altman flew the orbiter on manual control for the past 10 minutes. He executed a wide and sweeping 200-degree left-overhead over the Mojave Desert to position the shuttle on the north-east to south-west approach to land Runway 22.
The next space shuttle mission STS-127 is the 32nd construction flight of the International Space Station (ISS) and the final of a series of three flights dedicated to the assembly of the Japanese Kibo laboratory complex. The facility will provide a type of “front porch” for experiments in the exposed environment, and a robotic arm that will be attached to the Kibo Pressurized Module and used to position experiments outside the station. The 29th shuttle mission to the ISS will last about 16 days and includes five spacewalks (EVAs). The space shuttle Endeavour is targeted to launch at 11:17 UTC on June 13, 2009 from launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on its 23rd mission to the station.
STS-127 is a bit special for me as a Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette, to whom I had the privilege to talk as she visited my high school, United World College of the Adriatic in Duino, Italy, will be aboard Endeavour as a mission specialist for her second visit to the ISS.