Remembering the Final Space Shuttle Mission

NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

On July 8, 2011, the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final mission of the Space Shuttle (STS) program. The mission was designated STS-135.

That final mission carried the smallest shuttle crew since STS-6 in 1983—just four astronauts. They were Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandra Magnus, and Rex Walheim.

They were sent up to deliver over 11,600 pounds of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). This trip was vital to the ISS, because the end of the Shuttle program meant the end of NASA's ability to deliver heavy payloads to orbit. After the Shuttle, NASA had to rely on commercial launches (not yet in full swing in 2011) and international partners. (Shown at the top of this post is Mission Specialist in the "cupola" of the ISS, observing Earth, while Atlantis was docked with the space station.)

President Obama and the First Family stand beneath the Space Shuttle Atlantis prior to its final flight.
President Obama and the First Family stand beneath the Space Shuttle Atlantis prior to its final flight.
NASA // Public Domain

STS-135 was a minor media sensation, with the Obama family visiting Kennedy Space Center prior to the launch, President Obama meeting the crew at the White House, and the crew appearing on The Colbert Report. The Empire State Building was lit in red, white, and blue on July 20 in tribute to the Shuttle program.

Stephen Colbert salutes the crew of STS-135 on The Colbert Report.
Stephen Colbert salutes the crew of STS-135 on The Colbert Report.
NASA // Public Domain

In line with NASA tradition, STS-135 received some notable wakeup calls during the mission. Some of the biggies included messages recorded by Beyoncé, Paul McCartney, Michael Stipe, and Elton John, preceding their songs (including a brief a capella version of REM's "Man On the Moon" by Stipe). On the Shuttle's last wakeup call, CAPCOM played "God Bless America" as performed by Kate Smith. It was introduced by astronaut Shannon Lucid. It really was the end of an era.

Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station for the last time.
Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station for the last time.
NASA // Public Domain

STS-135 ended when Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2011. Today, Atlantis remains on display at Kennedy. Of the original five Space Shuttles, it is one of three that remain intact. Discovery is on display in Virginia, and Endeavour is in Los Angeles.

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Poike/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Poike/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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Where to Watch SpaceX’s Historic Astronaut Launch Live

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

SpaceX will make history today when it launches its first crewed spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 4:33 p.m. EDT. Powered by a Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will transport NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station, marking the company's first-ever crewed mission and the first crewed launch from the U.S. since 2011. If you want to watch the momentous event from home, there are plenty of ways to stream it live online.

Both SpaceX and NASA will be hosting livestreams of the May 27 launch. NASA's webcast kicks off at 12:15 p.m. EDT today with live looks at the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. The feed will continue streaming until late in the morning of Thursday, May 28, when the spacecraft is set to dock at the International Space Station. You can catch the coverage on NASA's website, its social media channels, or on the NASA TV channel through cable or satellite. SpaceX's stream also starts at 12:15 p.m. EDT, and it will be broadcast on the company's YouTube channel. (You can watch the video below).

Several television networks will be covering the event, with ABC and National Geographic airing "Launch America: Mission to Space Live" at 3 p.m., and Discovery and the Science Channel showing "Space Launch Live: America Returns to Space" at 2 p.m. If you're looking for more online streaming options, the American Museum of Natural History and Intrepid Museum in New York City will be hosting live events to celebrate the launch this afternoon on YouTube.

The launch has been scheduled down to the minute, but SpaceX still has time to change that depending on the weather. If today's launch doesn't happen according to plan, there are windows on May 30 and May 31 set aside for second attempts.

[h/t TechCrunch]