The last launch of Shuttle Atlantis

Shuttle Atlantis was launched from the Kennedy Space Centre on Friday 8th July, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the 135th and final time since its first mission in 1981. The touchdown of the shuttle on 20th July will signify not only the end of this mission but also the conclusion of three decades of NASA’s manned flight into Earth’s orbit. Around one million people filled the beaches and parks of the Space Coast to witness the launch, the most dedicated enthusiasts camping overnight to ensure themselves the best possible viewpoint; among the masses at the Space Centre itself were over 1,500 journalists from around the world. Crowds overflowed from the 700-person auditorium of the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, which controls the mission; many NASA employees brought their children and other family members to witness what Launch Director Mark Leinbach called the “special moment.”

Atlantis’s cargo is the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, a cylindrical container holding approximately a year’s supply (3.5 tonnes) of food, spare parts and various other items essential to the process of sustaining the space station until commercial companies are able to resupply the station. This container will be attached to the station itself after its removal from the shuttle’s payload bay, which is scheduled to take place on 11th July. Once this has been achieved, the ISS and Atlantis crews will be able to enter the Raffaello container and transfer its contents to the platform’s permanent storage areas. Following NASA’s retirement of its shuttles, it will be dependent upon robotic spacecrafts owned by private companies’ ability to carry out cargo runs to the ISS. One spacewalk will also be carried out during this mission by two station residents; their aim is to relocate an ammonia pump that recently failed at the station to the payload bay of the shuttle. As the pump is of great importance to the cooling system of the station, it is to be tested by station engineers who will attempt to understand the reasons for its failure and make adjustments accordingly.

The launch itself, though spectacular, did not take place entirely without incident. Doubts concerning the possibility of Atlantis’s final mission were instigated by poor weather forecasts; a system of thunderstorms stretching from the Gulf of Mexico across Florida caused the space centre’s weather desk to give the shuttle a mere 30% chance of launch. The management team, however, were not so quick to be dissuaded, and decided to fuel the shuttle tanks on Friday morning despite the weather predictions. Leinbach commented that in the past they had “tanked with worse predictions than that.” Following the flight of a reconnaissance aircraft through the weather system to determine the extent of cloud coverage, NASA made the decision to violate its written rule that prohibits a shuttle launch when rain showers are detected within 20 nautical miles of the landing site. However, the chairman of the Mission Management Team, Mike Moses, assured reporters that analysts “kept sharp eyes on the radar.” Further to this, lift-off was delayed when an indicator gauge lit, showing that one of the vents on the orbiter’s external fuel tank had not retracted fully; proceedings were resumed and the countdown continued after the crew had carried out a full check on the shuttle. The docking of Atlantis was confirmed at 1507 GMT on 10th July by NASA Mission Control in Houston.

President Obama congratulated and thanked both the astronauts and NASA employees for their work on the program, acknowledging not only the sense of finality surrounding the launch but also the way in which it “propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space.” The President closed his speech by challenging the men and women of NASA to “break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars.”


NASA engineers stressed the importance of international government bodies’ support of further research into aerospace engineering. Advancement in aerospace engineering is extremely important in the development of technology and furthering scientific understanding. It is therefore vital that language is not a barrier in the communication of ideas and knowledge concerning aerospace engineering and technology. At TJC Global we have an extensive network of highly professional interpreters and translators which allows us to select linguists for particular assignments in which they have experience or an expertise. This ensures that any enquiries for interpreting or translating can be tailored to our clients’ needs.

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