Shuttle lifts off for final scheduled flight
The Space Shuttle Atlantis launched today for its final planned mission in space, STS-132.
Atlantis lifted off in fair weather at 2:20 p.m. EDT (1820 UTC) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The launch was viewed by over 40,000 spectators at Kennedy, including a small group chosen by NASA for a space “tweetup”.
Carrying six veteran astronauts and an assortment of parts for the International Space Station (ISS), the shuttle took off without any delays. This mission, scheduled to take twelve days, is the aging shuttle’s 32nd voyage into space of its 25-year career.
While no damage to the shuttle was seen, a piece of space junk near the ISS caused minor concern (but no delays). The shuttle is expected to dock at the ISS early Sunday morning, and the crew will perform maintenance work on the ISS next week. If everything proceeds without incident, Atlantis will leave the ISS on May 23 and land on May 26.
This flight also marks the third-to-last mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, which is being retired this year. However, Atlantis will still be maintained as an emergency rescue shuttle for the final Space Shuttle mission, and while NASA could also use Atlantis to resupply the ISS, it has not yet made a final decision regarding the plan.