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Tanking begins. Candrea Thomas, NASA public affairs office, told media gathered at the press center at 1:50 am that the decision had been made to begin tanking the Atlantis at 2:01 am. Tanking normally tanks several hours.

Shuttle Atlantis at Pad 39-A, Kennedy Space Center, 2 am, July 8, 2011, at the moment when the countdown clock was restarted at T-6 hours. There are a series of built-in holds in the launch schedule. Although the countdown clock shows 6 hours to launch, launch is actually more than 9 hours away. - photograph Courtesy of NASA TV

This is one of the last significant steps in preparing the shuttle for launch.

Chances of weather allowing launch at 11:26 am EDT remained only 30-percent, Ms. Thomas added.

The Friday, July 8, 2011 launch window is 3 minutes and 18 seconds from 11:31:46 am EDT to 11:35:04 am.

Weather throughout the week had deterioirated until by Friday, chances of launch were rated by Kathy Winters, shuttle weather officer, at only 30-percent. Nonetheless, it is policy of the NASA launch teams to continue to move forward, weather and mechanicals permitting.

Sometimes it pays off. Shuttles have been launched in a 90-percent no-go weather window when weather cleared briefly and sufficiently to permit launch. But mostly it doesn’t work out.

If the shuttle is not launched on Friday, betting is that NASA will skip the Saturday window and try to launch again on Sunday. Getting its launch crew home and back, with sufficient time to rest, through roads expected to be crowded by about 1-million people will likely prove impossible.

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VAB from where CNN will broadcast the STS-135 launch at the JSC media site in Florida.

Houston to The Cape, July 1, 2011
Finishing the pre-launch briefings in Houston, and having flown the shuttle simulators on July 1, Carol Anne and I flew back to Orlando Saturday morning, July 2, leaving our car near Johnson Space Center in a hotel parking lot.

Guests for the 4th of July were arriving.

On Monday morning, we set out for the Cape to get our press credentials for the STS-135 mission. KSC has two badging offices, one on the causeway, and another on State Route 3. I had guessed that they would be badging on the causeway. Wrong. With 2,400 media already accredited, and more coming all the time, NASA badging at the Route 3 media office. Probably smart given the volume of credentials.

Displays, electronic broadcasting gear, even tents, windows and doors all were waiting to be set up on the afternoon of L-4, (L=Launch; 4= 4 days; L-4: Launch minus 4 days).

The office was open only a couple of hours on the 4th of July, so we arrived early expecting little activitiy. Wrong again. The office was busy, although within a few minutes we had been badged and were on our way.

At the press site, there were also a number of people milling around. Tents were set up, and displays were being erected. This was the final mission and lots of contractors were going to politick the large amount of media who were showing up.

I walked through and picked up the briefing paperwork, was told there was a 60-percent chance of launching on Friday, and checked in to see whether I wuld be given access to certain area during the launch. I got a non-committal answer. “I’ll make that decision about two hours before launch.” He smiled. I smiled. That usually means I’m in — but given the crush this time, I might not be.

By early afternoon we were back to Celebration, and in the evening watching fireworks and dining with friends. The evening would be the last quiet time we are likely to have for several weeks.

Each day before a launch, and each day a shuttle is on orbit, a countdown clock on the highways leading into the space center are updated. When the shuttle is on orbit, this sign (reversible) reads "X Days to Landing"

The countdown clock starts tomorrrow (July 5: L-3). There are two briefings Tuesday, July 5, 2011, in the morning and at noon, and then, Wednesday, an entire day of briefings starting at 8 am.

If the shuttle goes on Friday morning, July 8 — and it won’t, I’m certain — I fly back to Houston and will cover the mission from there until shortly before landing. Then I fly back to Florida, watch the landing, and fly back to Houston that evening where I’ll cover the astronauts arrival home and have been promised access to the JSC Mission Control Center.

Hopefully, it’ll all be over shortly before the end of the month, and I’ll be on to other endeavors.

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from the video

Preparing for Launch, and Launch
Video of Rollover from Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF = hangar), Lift-to-Mate in the Vehicle Assembly Building, Rollout to Launch Pad 39-A, and Launch
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HERE.
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Click the link. I mean it. Do it now. There is no sound until the launch in the final seconds. (this link courtesy of Dale Duckworth)
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from the video


Viewing Earth from the Shuttle Atlantis

After launch, go on board the Shuttle Atlantis and look down at the world
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HERE.
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(this link courtesy of Francie Marrs)

View both of these videos in Full Screen if you can.

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The Crawler transports the shuttle to the launch pad after being mated with the shuttle in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Mating takes about ten days. This Crawler, one of several, is parked in a storage facility on the Crawlway that leads to Pads 39-A and 39-B.

The Crawler is about five stories high and is driven by one person with a whole lot of help. Spotters walk ahead of the Crawler when a Shuttle is mated to the Crawler and the Crawler is transporting the shuttle to the launch pad. A second parking facility for Crawler parking is adjacent to the three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF = hangar) and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

The final trip for the Crawler transporting a shuttle, the Atlantis, from the VAB to Launch Pad 39-A was on the night of May 31-June 1, 2011. Unless weather forces a return of the Atlantis back to the VAB for safety, the Crawler will never be used again to transport a shuttle, but just as the Crawlers found life after the Apollo Moon capsules and rockets, so too they will likely soldier on.

In case you’d like to buy one to drive around your neighborhood, you will want to kick the tires wearing steel boots. Those aren’t tires; the Crawler is driven, like tanks, by tracks.

This photograph was taken by Carol Anne Swagler on May 17, 2011.
© 2011, Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC and Carol Anne Swagler.

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STS-135 Mission begins. An unexpectedly large number of the media showed up long before dawn for the rollover of the Atlantis on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, catching the NASA media center personnel off guard.

Here are the primary steps in preparing a shuttle from its landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at Kennedy Space Center to launch. When a shuttle mission ends in California or another alternate landing site such as White Sands, New Mexico, an additional step is required — flying the shuttle back to Kennedy Space Center riding on top of a Boeing 747. Alternate landing sites are used when weather at KSC remains unsatisfactory on repeated days and the shuttle is running out of expendables and must land. The shuttle has a limited number of landing windows each day, just as it has limited launch windows.

This is the Rollover of the Atlantis and beginning of STS-135, final mission in the American Space Shuttle program. It is 8:37 am. Atlantis has been backed out of Bay #2, its hangar, on left side of photograph. Then it will be driven to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) just to the left of where this picture was taken.

Return to OPF. After a shuttle returns from space, it is towed back to one of three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF) where it is prepared for another flight. It is towed along a blue line painted on the highway. The three OPFs are hangars, but also maintenance facilities.

The shuttle Atlantis has been in OPF Bay #2 since its last mission.

The Rollover. A new mission begins when a shuttle is “rolled over” from its Orbiter Processing Facility to the Vehicle Assembly (VAB) building several hundred yards away. The rollover of the Atlantis took place beginning at 8 am from Bay #2, on Tuesday morning, May 17, 2011, to the Vehicle Assembly Building and was completed about 3 pm.

Normally rollover takes a few hours, but because this is the last mission in the program, and the last mission for Atlantis, the shuttle was parked outside of the VAB. This interrupted the rollover allowing KSC employees and others to walk around and visit.

Atlantis nears the door of the VAB in background. She was stopped and parked here for six hours so that NASA employees, many who will be laid off by the time she flies, could say good-bye.

Lift to Mate. The next step in the process takes place inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the shuttle is lifted on end, and mated to the Crawler which will carry the shuttle out to the launch pad. This was scheduled to be a media event inside the VAB overnight May 17-18, 2011, but re-scheduled to Wednesday morning, May 18, 2011, possibly to accomodate the unexpectedly large number of media wishing to cover the final Lift to Mate.

The Rollout. The final step in moving the shuttle from the OPF to the launch pad is to roll out the Crawler from the VAB to the launch pad with the shuttle riding on top. This takes about 6 hours and occurs a week or two after Lift to Mate.

A launch date has yet to be set for STS-135 but will likely the launch will be in mid-July. This will be mission STS-135, the final flight in the American space shuttle program.

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Brief Atlantis History The Atlantis was the fourth of five shuttles. All were built in Palmdale, California. The first two, Columbia and Challenger, were lost. The third, Discovery, has flown her last flight and is in Bay #1 of the OPF being readied for the Smithsonian Museum at Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC. Discovery is expected to be handed over to the museum early in 2012. The newest, and fifth shuttle in the fleet, Endeavour, is currently in space. She was launched at 8:56 am, May 16, 2011, and is expected to return to Earth on May 31, 2011, after her final sixteen day mission.

The Current Header Photograph was taken at 9:30 a.m. The Atlantis was parked outside the VAB for six hours allowing staff to visit and be photographed with her. Astronauts who flew on her walked her from the ORF toward the VAB. The four Astronauts who will fly the final shuttle flight also walked along with the Atlantis.

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STS-135 Updates.
NASA updates on the Atlantis and on STS-135 as of May 17, 2011, appear to be being posted HERE.

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photographs by petecrow for Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio, City, California, “petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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NASA’s stunning photographs of the launch of STS-134 are HERE.

Pictures here are from 2 seconds after ignition through disappearance of the Shuttle Endeavour into clouds at 5,000 feet at about 8:57 EDT, Monday, May 16, 2011 at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The launch is from the only remaining operational shuttle launch pad, Pad 39-A.

2 Seconds into Launch


4 Seconds into Launch


10 Seconds into Launch


15 Seconds into Launch


22 Seconds into Launch


Gone! -- 26 Seconds into Launch. This was one of the quickest disappearance of the shuttle into clouds in the history of the program, a NASA spokesman said at a press conference later in the morning.

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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Shuttle Endeavour on Pad 39-A early evening, Sunday, May 15, 2011, 6:20 pm. This view is from the press site. Earlier in the day, shortly after Noon, the RSS was rolled back. Now all that remains is a decision expected to be made about 11 pm whether to begin fueling. The Astronauts will head for the pad shortly after 5 am, and Endeavour will lift off from Kennedy Space Center at 8:56 am, Monday, May 16, 2011, if all continues to go as planned.

photo © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow for Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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NASA list of best viewing sites to watch shuttle launches HERE
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8:45am, Orlando. I am on my way back to the coast and the Cape with plenty of time to make the 10 am briefing. And I would have had I not stopped to grab a fast food breakfast and to snap the picture at the left. What I didn’t figure were cars running as fast as possible up to the guard gate and cutting into line. Or the drawbridge being up for the second straight day on the Causeway — what are the chances of that?

10 am, media site. Preparations are underway in the parking lot for the influx of TV vans. Crews are laying yellow protectors for car to drive over, and cables to be tucked under. Today it is no kidding — there’s no close in parking and the lot for the TV vans is clear. I burro all my stuff into the media site.

10:05 am, press conference. Okay I’m late, but not serially late. Lots of re-visiting about the mechanicals that scrubbed the April 29 launch and whether the real cause has been found, or ever will be. Sounds to me like the answer is “never will be” but maybe is more “who cares” since everything seems to be working fine now.

Weather is 70-percent go on Monday morning’s launch, but there’s weather to be eyed on Sunday. If it doesn’t do what NASA thinks it will do, maybe the launch will be scrubbed again. The weather on Tuesday in only 60-percent chance, but Wednesday, if the launch is delayed that long, is a rosy 80-percent. On the other hand that is five days away. Still — these guys are awfully good at predicting weather.

Next press conference? Saturday, 4 pm.

Crowds. Will there be an estimated 700,000 people back on Monday for the launch? Probably not — probably coser to 500,000 since it is a weekday and a mid-morning launch (roughly 9 am).

The 10 am briefing was lightly attended with some, but not a lot of questions asked. Perhaps the biggest issue was answered in the briefing before the questions: Will the weather be okay for Monday's launch? So far, so good..

Tweeters. The Tweeter mystery has been solved. They will be back, albeit with truncated hours. They get to come back Sunday afternoon, and they have to leave after the Monday morning launch.

If the launch is delayed a second time, that’s it. Tweeters only get two bites of the apple — there’s no third-launch-opportunity for these 150 guys.

But where’s their tent? And their tables? And … Gone. All gone.

This time the Tweeters get to sit in bleachers. “That’s where most of them sat last time anyway.” — Hmmm.

“And, anyway! — last time they showed up with all kinds of stuff, including their own umbrellas.” Sort of like high tech beduoins? “Yes.” And the sun won’t get them? “No.” — Hmmm.

Will Tweeters be invited for STS-135, the final launch now scheduled for no earlier than June 28, 2011? “We’ll see.” The Tweeters bring along 150 additional cars for the parking lot, and if you think STS-134 is crowded (1,500 media), you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of the media likely to show up for STS-135 and the shuttle’s swan song.

Still, it sort of sounded like Tweeters will be tweeting here come the STS-135 launch.
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“petecrow / NASA” is copyright © by Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, California, and by Peter M Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust

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NASA offered the press different opportunities on the shuttle missions, including walking the Crawler and Shuttle from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the Launch pad. It’s a long walk and in February 2007, it was a cold one that took over six hours and ended at Pad 39B. The shuttle on the Crawler was Atlantis.

Carol Anne Swagler stands on one of the two pebble covered tracks which serve as the Crawler's highway to the two launch pads. Ms. Swagler, a veteran newspaper woman, was working as a photographer for an Oklahoma newsapaper, The Grove Sun Daily. In the waning days of the shuttle program, Ms. Swagler was frequently accredited to photograph the shuttle and other NASA launches at the Cape. The Grove Sun Daily, unusual for a small daily, sent reporters and photographers to cover the space program frequently, all the way back to the Apollo 17 moon launch in 1972; its community had a NASA sub-contractor. In the background over Ms. Swagler's shoulder is the Vehicle Assembly Building. The Crawler and shuttle are heading toward Ms. Swagler -- she had walked on ahead. If she had not moved -- which she did -- the Crawler would have flattened her and there would have been no more trips to the Cape for Ms. Swagler.

photo by petecrow / © 2007 Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, California

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NASA invited selected members of the press to record the Roll Out of the Shuttle Discovery from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A on the night of January 31, 2011. This is a series of photos taken that evening, to include a small selection of a series taken on the 5th and 16th floors inside the VAB.

The Media Center at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. This is workspace and a general clearing house of data and information for the media. The Media Center is adjacent to a briefing room where commonly joint news conferences are held linking other NASA facilities, such as Johnson Space Center in Houston. Once a vehicle is launched from Kennedy, control passes during the mission to Houston.


Photographers and reporters are bused by NASA to events at KSC and are only allowed unescorted to a lunch room a short walking distance from the Media Site. The 25-35 photographers covering the Roll Out of Discovery on January 31, 2011, gathered at dusk and waited for security to inspect their equipment before being allowed to board the bus which shuttled them across the street to the VAB.


Yes, at the top center of this picture, you can see the bottom of the shuttle. Everything else is the crawler. On the ground floor of the VAB the photographers walked past the Crawler with Discovery on top on their way to elevators which carried them to higher floors and better vantage points. Photographers had to surrender their cellphones and car keys -- anything which sends an electronic signal -- and, if they wore glasses, had to secure their glasses with bands to the backs of their heads before boarding the elevators.


On the VAB's fifth floor, shown here, photographers were even with the top of the Crawler and the bottom of the shuttle Discovery. On the 16th floor they were even with the top of the main fuel tank. Photographers were free to move between these two floors as long as they were escorted and could walk within a few feet of the Crawler itself by going on walkways that led out over the VAB shuttle bay.


The tip of the main fuel tank is even with the 16th floor of the VAB. The VAB was built in 1966 for the Apollo Moon program which used much larger rockets. Although the shuttle and launcher only reach the 16th floor, the VAB itself continues on to the 37th floor, space that was needed in the 1960s and 1970s when NASA was sending missions to the Moon. The final mission to the Moon was in December 1972 and men have not returned there since, although it is thought that the Chinese will be establishing a permanent base on the Moon within the next decade.


Gone! The well lit Crawler and shuttle are in the distance viewed from the now empty shuttle bay which a half hour before the Crawler and shuttle had filled. The Crawler does not move fast (1 mile per hour), but it is steady. If you wanted to drive the Crawler to California, it would take 125 days driving day and night. NASA varies the events it offers the press. Besides periodic visits to the VAB, the Clean Room where shuttle missions are assembled, the astronaut dormitory and the launch pads, 39A and 39B, NASA also occasionally invites the media to walk the shuttle from the VAB to the launch pad or from the shuttle hangars to the VAB. Only one more shuttle mission is scheduled before the program ends and the shuttles are sent to museums.

photographs © 2011 by petecrow and by seine/harbour®productions, studio city, california

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