Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Space Shuttle mission STS-125

Agent Triple P was pleased to see the return of the Space Shuttle Atlantis following its long-delayed and tricky mission to upgrade the Hubble Space telescope.

Gently does it. It's cost $4.5 billion so far!

Because the mission (STS-125; the 157th manned American space flight) was in a low inclination orbit if the Shuttle had been damaged during launch there would have been no way to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

STS-125 (Atlantis) and back up Shuttle STS-400 (Endeavour) on the launch pad

This led to the necessity of having a back up Shuttle on the launch pad which gave rise to a number of striking images and really made the Kennedy Space Center look more like a proper spaceport.

Launch of STS-125 in Florida

Kennedy Space Center is the world's only proper spaceport as it, uniquely, has the ability to both launch and recover vehicles in the same location.

However, the weather in Florida is truly terrible for such a venture and so this time the Shuttle had to land at Edwards Airforce Base in California again meaning an extra $1.7 million cost as the Shuttle has to be ferried back to Florida on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Landing in California.

Job done!

This was the last planned manned mission to the Hubble Telescope until it is decommisioned. One of the crew's jobs was to attach a locking ring so that the telescope can be grabbed by a robot vehicle and directed into the atmosphere in a controlled way when its job is done. Because of the improved gyros the mission installed it should stay up a bit longer now, anyway.

So, that's almost it for Atlantis and the other two Shuttles, Endeavour and Discovery. They each have one more flight each next year before they are retired and then it's a four year wait before project Constellation delivers the Orion Spacecraft (basically a big Apollo module) and the Ares launcher. In the meantime Russian rockets will be used to service the International Space Station or, possibly, some of the American commercial concerns using the Falcon 9 and Taurus II rockets.