The space shuttle Atlantis has completed what is expected to be its final voyage this morning, with a smooth touch-down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Atlantis has been the unsung workhorse of our shuttle fleet. Here are some interesting tid-bits of Atlantis’ 25 years in service (courtesy Space.com):
Miles traveled in space
When Atlantis launched into space on May 14, it had already flown about 115.7 million miles (186 million km) during its 31 previous space missions.
This mission, STS-132, is the shuttle’s 32nd spaceflight and tacked on another 4.8 million miles (7.7 million km) to Atlantis’ odometer. The total miles in space: 120,650,907 miles (194,168,813 km).
During its trips to space, Atlantis has visited two space stations (the International Space Station and Russia’s Mir space station) as well as the Hubble Space Telescope.
Atlantis’ landing in Florida marked the 75th shuttle landing in Florida and the 58th mission to land at the spaceport during daylight.
Trips around the planet
As of this morning, Atlantis has orbited the Earth at least 186 times on this current mission. That seems like a lot, but in the shuttle’s 31 earlier missions, it racked up 4,462 laps around its home planet. So with Atlantis’ Wednesday landing, it has circled the planet 4,648 times.
Atlantis zoomed through space at about 17,500 mph (28,163 kph) and completed a single orbit once every 90 minutes white it was in orbit. [Photos: Last Launch of Atlantis.]
When visiting the space station, the shuttle flies 220 miles (354 km) above Earth.
Time in space
Atlantis flew a 12-day mission to the International Space Station, where its astronaut crew delivered a new Russian research module Rassvet, which means "Dawn" in Russian. They also performed three spacewalks to install a spare antenna and six fresh batteries for the station’s solar arrays.
Those 12 days add to the 282 days in space the shuttle spent during its first 31 missions, boosting the total to 294 days in space. That’s more than 9 months in space over the last 25 years and 32 missions.
Number of astronauts flown
According to NASA, Atlantis has flown more than 190 crewmembers into space during its 32 missions. However, some astronauts like mission specialists Michael Good and Piers Sellers on Atlantis’ current flight, made several trips on the shuttle.
NASA astronaut Jerry Ross, a veteran of seven spaceflights, flew on Atlantis five separate times, including his first and last missions.
"Obviously, it is my favorite space shuttle," Ross said.
Only two more shuttle flights are on the books at present. Discovery and Endeavor’s final voyages to low-earth-orbit. Atlantis itself will be prepped as a rescue-shuttle for Endeavor’s mission. However, if that mission isn’t needed (it would only launch if Endeavor was damaged and unable to return astronauts safely to Earth), than Atlantis’ next mission will be to a museum somewhere to begin its new life as an exhibit, along with its sister shuttles. They might go ahead and launch Atlantis anyway, on a delivery run to the space station, to deliver some more spare parts and components that otherwise probably will never get up there.
Anyway, join me in giving thanks and gratitude to the Space Shuttle Atlantis for its dedicated service to our nation, and humanity-at-large.