The end of an era of International space exploration is near as NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis prepares for its final launch and the last ever launch of from the fleet of manned shuttles. The final countdown has already begun and the takeoff is expected to be at 16:26 (11:26 Florida time).
According to the BBC, up to a million spectators are expected to be near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the final flight which marks the 135th takeoff for the space shuttle program. It is also the 33rd voyage for the Atlantis orbiter.
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While the shuttle was being readied and fueled, speculation over whether the launch will actually go ahead still lingers. This is due to some unfavorable weather that the city is experiencing. The chances of launch are currently at about 30% as it is expected to worsen. If the launch is delayed, chances of launch on Saturday or Sunday going ahead are more favorable due to better weather conditions.
As far as technicality problems go, the shuttle is in perfect condition for launch and preparations are going well. Fuelling the familiar orange tank even finished ahead of schedule. It looks as though the weather is the only factor that could affect launch time, which is why it is being kept a close eye on.
We previously brought you news of the Endeavour shuttle launch which eventually took place in May. That launch date had been rearranged twice before. The reason for this is because NASA scientists must be 100% assured that nothing will go wrong and as close to perfect conditions as possible are aimed for. This is so there is no repeat of the tragedies that occurred in 2003 when space shuttle Challenger exploded killing the whole crew.
While this is a sad day as it marks the end of an era, it is also a day that NASA should feel very proud with what they have achieved. It also marks the beginning of a new era. The first space shuttle launch was in 1981 when Colombia took off. This shuttle also exploded during re-entry into the Earth’s orbit.
Ultimately the dangers of this type of space exploration led to the retirement of the fleet. Though NASA would have loved for their final launch to be faultless and perfect, it seems that it isn’t such smooth sailing. We will have to wait until launch time to find out if the flight still takes place. Check out the link above where you will find a live stream of the launch. How do you feel about the retirement of the space shuttle fleet?