Shuttle pictures southern lights
July 16th, 2011
11:46 AM ET

Shuttle pictures southern lights

A member of the space shuttle Atlantis crew snapped this spectacular image of the aurora australis, or southern lights.

The glowing phenomenon is caused by magnetic energy from the sun interacting with Earth's magnetic field, causing electrons to glow like a giant fluorescent light.

Part of the orbiter boom sensor system is visible; it was attached to the end of the shuttle's robotic arm. A part of the shuttle's left wing is at right.

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Atlantis docks on space station
Atlantis docked on the space station Sunday.
July 10th, 2011
12:58 PM ET

Atlantis docks on space station

Atlantis docked with the International Space Station Sunday morning as part of a historic mission marking the final flight of the U.S. shuttle program. Atlantis' four-member crew will deliver supplies and spare parts to the space station, and pick up a broken pump and transport it back to Earth for inspection, NASA said on its website.

The shuttle docked at 11:07 a.m. ET.

The four-member crew blasted off Friday at 11:29 a.m. on what was originally planned to be a 12-day mission, the last in the nation's 30-year shuttle program. NASA will likely try to extend the mission by one day, said Mike Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator.

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Flying 'blind' inside Mission Control
Ascent Flight Director Richard Jones, seated second from left, confers with his team Friday at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
July 9th, 2011
02:37 PM ET

Flying 'blind' inside Mission Control

Editor's note: Tracy Sabo is a senior producer at CNN. She was granted unusual access to watch Friday's space shuttle launch from inside Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Here is her first-person account:

As space shuttle Atlantis was in final countdown on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I sat in Johnson Space Center's Mission Control in Houston watching the historic mission from a perspective rarely seen by non-NASA employees and contractors.

The feeling of "history in the making" was palpable as Richard Jones, the ascent flight director, stood pacing and scratching his head in the middle of the floor. Jones was poring over data on screens both big and small inside this intense scene at NASA Mission Control.

The weather was a major concern for the launch team as thunderstorms were consistently a "moderate threat." With the world watching this final shuttle mission, the pressure of an on-time launch must have been immense on the shoulders of this team.

However, officials constantly reminded us that "safety comes first" at NASA and the launch would be called off if everything didn't come together perfectly during a narrow window of opportunity. A decision likely would come down "to the final seconds," a spokesman said.

Listening to the flight director poll his Mission Control team in the final minutes sent chills down my spine. Despite the early weather threats, all systems were determined "Go for launch," and the official countdown clock began.

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NASA flight director relishes the moment, focuses on the mission
NASA Flight Director Richard Jones monitors the space shuttle Atlantis inside Mission Control the Johnson Space Center.
July 8th, 2011
06:41 PM ET

NASA flight director relishes the moment, focuses on the mission

After Friday's launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, CNN Correspondent Ed Lavandera talked with Flight Director Richard Jones inside NASA Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Jones is a 20-year veteran of the space shuttle program. Today, Jones made the call to give the go-ahead for the final launch of Atlantis.

CNN: What was it like being in there today?

Richard Jones: I was a bundle of nerves. I mean, we were working through the weather issue that most people probably already know about. The weather was on the verge of being absolutely pristine, but it just wasn't quite there. So, we were churning through that making sure it was all safe.

CNN: I know your number one priority was to get those astronauts off safely. But in the back of your mind, knowing the whole world was watching today, Did that sink in at any point?

Jones: It's sinking in right now as I'm talking to you. In this room you kind of learn to live in the bubble a little bit. So everything that we're doing, it just fades to the background. We know a lot of people are watching but it becomes background noise. So I wasn't focusing on anything except my job at the time.

CNN: Has it sunk that this was the last space shuttle launch?

Jones: Not yet. I mean, we've got a mission to fly. After, we'll stop when all the parties begin. It's going to start sinking in at that time. But we have to make sure the rest of the mission goes off without a hitch.

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Final space shuttle mission lifts off
July 8th, 2011
11:51 AM ET

Final space shuttle mission lifts off

The space shuttle Atlantis lifted off Friday morning on the final mission of America's 30-year space-shuttle program.

The four-member crew blasted off on a 12-day mission just before 11:30 a.m. The four - all shuttle veterans - are on their way to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

The possibility of storms had raised doubt about whether the launch would take place as planned, but NASA gave the shuttle a "go" for launch a few minutes before liftoff.

Thousands of people, including some who came to Kennedy Space Center three decades ago for the first launch, were gathered to watch. Almost a million people were expected to be on hand to witness the historic event.

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