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The Final Countdown

July 8, 2011

Rheanna Sand

Altantis preparing for launch, July 7th, 2011 (NASA)

 

Well, I've been lamenting about it for the past year, and now the day has finally arrived. The last space shuttle mission was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:29 EDT today, with mixed emotions for everyone involved, I'm sure. But regardless of how you feel about it, mission STS-135 is now successfully underway with Atlantis making a beeline towards the ISS. Interestingly, this last historic voyage is manned by a crew of "understudies" - astronauts who were trained to rescue stranded colleagues, but not expected to lead a mission of their own.

Now, ironically, critics are saying that in shutting down the Shuttle program, NASA won't have a backup plan for this group of adventurers. There won't be another Shuttle that can swing by and pick them up on the way home. If something happens during this mission, the crew will have to hitch a ride home with the Russians. And since it's a tiny Soyuz capsule, only three of them can fit (unless one goes in the trunk).

NASA greats like Neil Armstrong and James Lovell have sent a letter urging the space agency to reconsider, or even delay this final launch - but to no avail. T-minus nothing, all systems go, thrusters on, ENGAGE. Done.

Here's to the end of an era.

 

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