Thousands of people from around the country gathered in Cape Canaveral last week to watch the last operational NASA space shuttle take to the skies during the program’s final launch. Arriving as early as 3 a.m., many slept in their cars for a chance to see Atlantis launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center last Friday at around 11:30.
Despite a 70-percent no-go chance due to weather, the cloud cover let up enough by late morning for NASA to initiate the final shuttle countdown. The countdown went smoothly until a glitch brought it to a halt at 31 seconds, triggering a sudden hush among viewing crowds. After a brief delay, the launch was given the green light to resume its countdown and successfully launched seconds afterward.
Atlantis docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday. During their 12-day mission, the four crew members aboard the orbiter are delivering supplies, spare parts and logistics to the ISS. They are also researching the potential for the robotic refueling of spacecraft and retrieving a faulty ammonia pump module.
The mission, which is planned to conclude with a scheduled landing back in Florida, will bring a close to the NASA shuttle program, which launched its first mission with the orbiter Columbia in 1981.