If the weather holds, the space shuttle Atlantis will launch into orbit tomorrow from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on the final space shuttle mission, marking the end of the Space Shuttle Program. This got us thinking about our two (two!) behind the scenes space shuttle launch experiences. And don’t miss the amazing space shuttle facts at the end of this post.

The decommissioned space shuttle Explorer on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The end of the Space Shuttle Program

The Space Shuttle Program is officially called the Space Transportation System and it’s always referred to as STS (NASA–which stand for National Aeronautics and Space Administration–loves acronyms). STS was started in 1981 and the program has had five different shuttles which have been successfully thrust into space 133 times (tragically, Columbia was lost during launch in 2003 and Challenger was lost during re-entry in 1986).

The space shuttle Atlantis, which made its first trip into space in 1989, has the honor of being the last one up. No replacement for the Space ShuttlePprogram has been fully developed yet, so Atlantis is carrying a year’s worth of parts and supplies up to the space station which, from here on out, will be served by the Russian space program until NASA develops a new way to reach the scientists working there.

Space Shuttle Atlantis clock Kennedy Space Center

A clock at the Kennedy Space Center tracks the amount of time space shuttle Atlantis had spent in orbit following its March 2008 launch which we witnessed.

In 2008 we attended two space shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center and got a unique behind-the-scenes look at the preparation. In February of 2008 we saw the Atlantis shuttle go up during a daytime launch. We were so amazed by the combination of science and spectacle that we returned to Florida’s Space Coast in March 2008 to watch the space shuttle Endeavour go up during a dramatic night launch. The ground shakes. People cheer. It’s one of those unique USA events.

Here’s a look at the launches we witnessed and a nod to NASA as they prepare to send a space shuttle up for the last time.

Launch of space shuttle Atlantis (STS #122) March 2008

The space shuttle Atlantis during a launch in March 2008.

The space shuttle Atlantis during a launch in March 2008.

The space shuttle Atlantis making easy work of a cloud during a launch in March 2008.

Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-122 launch #5

The space shuttle Atlantis rockets out of view during a launch in March 2008.

Night launch of space shuttle Endeavour (STS #123) February 2008

Fans (including us) gather at Kennedy Space Center to watch the night time launch of the space shuttle Endeavour.

The space shuttle Endeavour takes off during a night launch in March 2008.

The space shuttle Endeavour successfully launches from the Kennedy Space Center.

11 amazing space shuttle facts

Only one space shuttle launch has ever been observed in person by a US President: President Bill Clinton watched Discovery go up in 1988.

A space shuttle mission costs more than US$775 million to plan and execute.

space shuttle launch pad Kennedy Space Center

Launch-Pad-39-A where space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from 20 hours before this picture was taken.

Since 2009, astronauts have been tweeting from space.

Space shuttles travel at 17,500 mph (2,8163 kmph).

Since 1981, space shuttles have completed almost 21,000 orbits of the earth.

Space shuttle astronauts travel so fast around the earth that they see sunrise every 45 minutes.

The space shuttle Vehicle Assembly Building in the background and the Twin Crawler in the foreground.

The Vehicle Assembly Building, where space shuttles are built, is the fourth-largest structure in the world by volume.

The Twin Crawler, which moves the space shuttle to the launch area, is the largest truck in the world.  It travels on a meticulously engineered road capable of holding the combined weight of the crawler and a space shuttle.

Since 1981, NASA’s space shuttles have traveled more than 500 billion miles (equal to more than one round trip between the Earth and Jupiter).

Since 1981, the space shuttles have spent more than 1,320 days in space.

Space shuttles have carried more than 850 people into space.


Here’s more about travel in the USA


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