7 Things You Didn’t Know About The Last Space Shuttle Mission

The 135th & final mission of the American Space Shuttle program.

“STS-135” — Credit: NASA

NASA concluded the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

NASA ended the space shuttle era with the STS-135 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2011.

NASA’s Space Shuttle Program sent over 600 astronauts into low-Earth orbit over a 30-year-span. Averaging speeds of 17,500+ miles per hour (28,000 kilometers) space shuttle crews would see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. Until NASA’s new Space Launch System is complete, or private companies such as SpaceX are able to launch astronauts to low Earth orbit, NASA must rely on Russian Soyuz rockets to get Americans into space.

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The mileage of all orbiters combined during the Space Shuttle Program total over 513.7 million miles (826.7 million km) travelled, which is about 1.3 the distance between Earth and Jupiter.

Feed your space shuttle curiosity with the “Atlantis — The Final Space Shuttle Mission” book

The historic Atlantis orbiter is now on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Plan your visit today!

Enjoy these 7 Things You Didn’t Know About The Last Space Shuttle Mission!

“STS-135 prior to launch” — Credit: NASA

#7 — Prior to launch the space shuttle weighted 4,521,143lbs (2,050,756 kg).

According to NASA — “Space shuttle Atlantis carried the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station. The mission also flew a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and returned a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.” — read more here.

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“The space shuttle Atlantis launches for the STS-135 mission to the International Space Station in the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff was at 11:29 a.m. (EDT) on July 8, 2011. Onboard are NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson, STS-135 commander; Doug Hurley, pilot; Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim, both mission specialists.” — Credit: NASA Photo/Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. Pool

#6 — STS-135 launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A in Florida at 11:29 a.m. (EDT) on July 8, 2011.

According to NASA — “It was a hot July day on Florida’s Space Coast as nearly a million spectators gathered along the beaches, rivers and causeways to watch history in the making. The weather forecast was a daunting 70 percent “no-go” to start the day, yet the countdown proceeded smoothly.” — read more here.

“Attired in their training versions of the shuttle launch and entry suit, STS-135 crew members listen to a briefing by a crew trainer prior to the start of a training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Pictured from the left are NASA astronauts Rex Walheim, mission specialist; Chris Ferguson, commander; Sandy Magnus, mission specialist; and Doug Hurley, pilot. STS-135 is planned to be the final mission of the space shuttle program. “ — Credit: NASA

#5 — The last space shuttle crewmembers were Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

According to NASA — “The crew got down to business after reaching orbit as they headed for a rendezvous and docking with the space station two days after launch. One of the main tasks before meeting up with the station was getting a close look at Atlantis’ heat shield to verify that it hadn’t sustained any damage during the climb to orbit. Mission Control in Houston gave them a “thumbs up” on the inspection results a few days later.” — read more here.

“This is a view of the space shuttle Atlantis and its Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module during the final day of being docked with the International Space Station. The object connected to the station at right in the grasp of Dextre, a robot hand, is the Cargo Transport Container-2 (CTC-2) which was delivered by JAXA’s HTV-2 vehicle earlier in the year.” — Credit: NASA

#4 — The four-person crew was the smallest space shuttle mission since STS-6 in April 1983.

According to NASA — “Once Atlantis caught up to the space station, Ferguson executed a backflip about 600 feet below to enable station crew members to photograph the shuttle’s heat shield.

The photos were evaluated by experts on the ground to look for any damage and none was found.” — read more here.

“Backdropped against a mostly blue Earth scene, part of the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, packed with supplies and spare parts for the International Space Station, the vertical stabilizer of space shuttle Atlantis and the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods are seen in this view photographed by one of the STS-135 crewmembers using windows on the spacecraft’s aft flight deck during the mission’s second day of activities in Earth orbit.” — Credit: NASA

#3–It was the 33rd and final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

According to NASA — “One week into Atlantis’ mission, President Barack Obama radioed the combined shuttle and station crews to help mark the final shuttle flight. The President told them, “We’re all watching as the 10 of you work together as a team,” adding, “Your example means so much not just to your fellow Americans, but also your fellow citizens on Earth. The space program has always embodied our sense of adventure and explorations and courage.”

He also thanked those who have supported the Space Shuttle Program during the past 30 years of flight, and all the men and women of NASA who helped the country lead the space age.” — read more here.

“The space shuttle Atlantis launches for the STS-135 mission to the International Space Station in the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff was at 11:29 a.m. (EDT) on July 8, 2011. Onboard are NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson, STS-135 commander; Doug Hurley, pilot; Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim, both mission specialists.“ — Credit: NASA Photo/Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. Poo.

#2 — The 37th Space Shuttle/International Space Station (ISS) assembly mission.

According to NASA — “Two days after Atlantis arrived at the station, the only spacewalk during the mission was performed not by shuttle astronauts, but by two station residents who three years earlier had collaborated on three spacewalks when they were STS-124 shuttle crewmates.

Now as Expedition 28 flight engineers, Fossum and Garan were paired again as they spent six hours and 31 minutes working outside the station. Choreographed from inside Atlantis by Walheim, Hurley and Magnus operated the station’s 58-foot-long robotic arm to maneuver the spacewalkers around the exterior of the joined spacecraft.” — read more here.

“Ribbons of steam and smoke trail space shuttle Atlantis as it nears touchdown on the Shuttle Landing Facility’s Runway 15 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the final time.” — Credit: NASA

#2 — The space shuttle landed on 21 July 2011, following a one-day mission extension.

According to NASA — “In preparation for landing, the astronauts used the 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System to conduct a high-fidelity, three-dimensional scan of Atlantis’ wing leading edges and nose cap and received the “all clear” from mission managers. The crew also checked out the shuttle’s flight control surfaces, hot fired its reaction control system jets and rehearsed landing on a laptop computer.” — read more here.

“An American flag waves in the wind in front of space shuttle Atlantis on the Shuttle Landing Facility’s Runway 15 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis’ final return from space at 5:57 a.m. (EDT) on July 21, 2011, completed the 13-day, 5.2-million-mile STS-135 mission. Securing the space shuttle fleet’s place in history, Atlantis brought a close to the nation’s Space Shuttle Program. STS-135 delivered spare parts, equipment and supplies to the International Space Station. STS-135 was the 33rd and final flight for Atlantis, which has spent 307 days in space, orbited Earth 4,848 times and traveled 125,935,769 miles.” — Credit: NASA

#1 — The mission officially lasted 12 days, 18 hours, 27 minutes & 52 seconds.

According to NASA — “NASA’s shuttle fleet — Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — flew a total of 135 missions.

Each one began at Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39.

Of those missions, 78 ended with a Kennedy landing; 54 concluded with a touchdown on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base in California; and one landed at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.” — read more here.

*Bonus* — Final launch footage:

Did you know all 7? Share your favorite space shuttle facts with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn!

“I think both the space shuttle program and the International Space Station program have not really lived up to their expectations.” — Buzz Aldrin