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Hangar to VAB to Launch to Space & back

Shuttles always returned on landing to one of four hangars which were offically known as Orbiter Processing Facility 1, 2, 3 and 4. In the OPF the shuttle was serviced, repaired as necessary and readied again to fly in space.


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Movement of the shuttle first was from the OPF to the Vehicle Assembly building several hundred yards away. This movement was called "the rollover" and took several hours.


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The shuttle was transported on a carrier that was driven by a driver. Entering the VAB the shuttle was in the Transit Aisle, a room which extends to the top of the VAB more than 500 feet and 40 stories high.


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Carol Anne Swagler's Shuttle photograph from a 16th floor catwalk in the VAB. As lifting of the shuttle begins, the shuttle seems to takes flight. Once she is upright, she hangs above the Transit Aisle for hours.


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On the Transit Aisle, the shuttle is harnessed and then turned on end. It is allowed to hang there for hours until it completely settles and stops swaying. Then it is slowly lifted 500-feet to the ceiling on the VAB.


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Pete Crow's Shuttle photograph showing the Atlantis after being moved directly over the 5-story high Crawler/Transporter in VAB High Bay 1. This photo was taken from a catwalk on the 16th floor of the VAB.


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The most difficult and occasionally time-consuming step in the "Lift (the shuttle) to Mate (the shuttle with the Transporter/Crawler) is lowering the shuttle precisely onto the Crawler to enable its being secured onto the Crawler/Transporter. Once the shuttle is secure, the Crawler begins moving out of the VAB, as shown here, toward the Launch Pad at the rate of 1 mile and hour.


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Once outside the VAB, the Crawler turns onto the Crawler way, two strips on Alabama river rock separated by a green center median. The Crawler way leads to both Pad 39-A and Pad 39-B, branching several miles down the Crawlerway. In the final missions only Pad 39-A was used. Pad 39-B was torn down and demolished in May and June 2011 to begin to prepare it for Constellation, the next US manned space program. President Obama canceled Constellation after millions had been spent, but the outcry was so great he reinstated it. More money was spent and then Mr. Obama canceled it again. All that remains is a 1960s-esq capsule that resembles Apollo called Orion. Orion is a capsule without a rocket to get it into space and no one will say when a rocket for it will be announced.


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The Crawler is five stories high. To gauge the size of it look for the man in this picture besides the track (bottom center). For many years NASA invited selected members of the press to walk with the Crawler from the VAB to the Pad. As the program neared an end, the shuttles were commonly moved at night and it was deemed too dangerous to allow the media to walk with the shuttle any longer.


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Carol Anne Swagler, Grove Sun Daily, walks far ahead of the shuttle and stands on one of the twin rock highways on which the shuttle traveled. The Crawler and shuttle were so heavy the rocks on the highway were crushed each time and had to be replaced. Nothing about the shuttle program was easy or inexpensive.


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Pete Crow and the Shuttle Atlantis days before her final July 8, 2011 launch. Once at the Pad, the payload for the shuttle is brought to the pad and lifted up onto the Rotating Service Structure, directly behind Pete Crow. The payload for STS-135 is in the white rectangular box over his left shoulder. When ready, the shuttle's payload doors are opened and the RSS is rotated until it covers the shuttle. The payload is then secured in the shuttle's bay.


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The RSS remains mated with the shuttle until about 18 hours before launch. Then it is retracted -- rotated more than 90-degrees leaving the shuttle alone on the pad, and ready to be fueled about 9 hours before launch.


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The RSS has been fully retracted and the shuttle is ready to be launched. This is Endeavour awaiting launch on STS-134, the second to last shuttle mission. Retraction is a popular press event unless it rains. Few photographed the retraction of the final shuttle mission, STS-135, on the afternoon of July 7, 2011 because the time for retraction was repeatedly shifted due to weather, and because weather at the Pad was often a driving rain and it was muddy. Retraction was more easily enjoyed by watching it on NASA-TV from the comfort of the Pad 39 Press site.


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Kennedy Space Center adjoins a wildlife sanctuary, Merritt Island, on the eastern shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Dawn here is often beautiful as it was on the blustery morning of July 8, 2011, when Pete took this photograph of the Atlantis on Pad 39-A.


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Pete Crow shuttle Atlantis photograph from the roff of the Vehicle Assembly Building seconds after lift-off. There are only a handful of photographers allowed on the VAB roof for safety reasons, but Seine/Harbour® and The Grove Sun, Grove, Oklahoma, were granted two of the less than 40 spaces on July 8, 2011.


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This is Endeavour being launched on STS-134 on May 16, 2011. The view is 22 seconds into the launch and was taken at the Media Press site. It shows a strikingly different perspective than the picture directly above taken from the VAB roof. Once launched the astronauts are in subjected to three+ G's (three times the weight of gravity). It doesn't last long. Eight minutes after launch the shuttle is over Africa and in space. And the astronauts are weightless.


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Later shuttle missions lasted 12 to 14 days. The shuttle has to watch its energy reserves which drive the electrical which drives its computers. Generally, the shuttle undocks two days before landing from the International Space Station (ISS) then re-configures its orbits for landing in Florida. Landing begins with a de-orbit burn on the other side of the world, commonly over the Indian Ocean. Once the de-orbit burn is exectued about 60 minutes from landing, the shuttle has no where else to go except to the tiny Shuttle Landing Facility (runway) at Kennedy Space Center. This photo, taken by Pete, is of the final landing of Discovery and was taken on the northern end of the runway.


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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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Media visits to the Discovery on June 21, 2011, were not a crowded event. Media went onto Discovery's decks two at a time and had fifteen minutes or more to root around and explore. Carol Anne Swagler of The Grove Sun and Seine/Harbour® Productions is on the far right.

About these 19 Photos. On June 21, 2011, NASA invited about 85 members of the media to Florida to visit the Shuttle Discovery, now in High Bay Number 1 of the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) (OPF= hangar).

Each member of the media was assigned a one hour slot, and given 15 minutes on the decks, crawlways and bay inside the Discovery where a member of the Flow Team was available.

This was the second, and probably last time, general media will visit the Discovery before she goes to the Smithsonian Museum at Dulles International Airport early in 2012. In April, NASA also allowed selected members of the media into High Bay 1. At that time the dismantling of the Discovery’s recoverable parts and removal of hazmat materials, now well progressed, had not begun.

The Flight Deck of the Shuttle Discovery.

The formal name of the Discovery, the oldest survivor in the fleet, is “OV-103”. This stands for “Orbiter Vehicle, Number 3”.

In all five operational orbiters were built. In order they were Columbia (lost over Texas), Challenger (lost on liftoff), Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Only the latter three orbiters survive.

The photos below were taken either by Peter Michael Crow or by Carol Anne Swagler on June 21, 2011 at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
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The nose wheel of the Discovery. The landing gear of the shuttle is dropped only seconds before touchdown because once the gear is dropped whatever lift the shuttle has, which is very little, is gone. Rightly, descent of the shuttle to landing is akin to watching a rock fall out of the sky. This photo is taken from under the shuttle looking toward the front. The insulating heat tiles are directly above, and above that, the crew compartment.


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Flight deck on the Discovery, and the Commander's lefthand seat. The windows were covered and therefore it was dark inside the flight deck and crew compartment. The five seats in the crew compartment had already been removed.


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The console to the right of the Commander. To command a shuttle, you must first ride in the second seat on a mission and spend a year or more training on the ground. To dock at the International Space Station (ISS), the commander gets out of his seat, turns around 180-degrees and, facing the orbiter bay and air lock, uses only two controls (shown below) to ease the shuttle to docking devises on the ISS.


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Carol Anne Swagler on flight deck of the Shuttle Discovery. Ms. Swagler shot both video and still photographs. Others had suggested, correctly, that flash would be needed on the shuttle decks. The schedule became more complicated as the day went on when two foreign wire service photographers showed up and pressured KSC public affairs staff (successfully) to be allowed onto the Discovery. Others also tried to squeeze additional members of their staffs into the tight schedule.


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There are two windows on the flight deck looking directly into the orbiter bay. In the forward end of the bay is the hatch where the shuttle docks with the ISS, and where astronauts have ingress and egress from the ISS and the shuttle by crawling through a small crawlway (shown below). To dock, the shuttle commander stands here, gazing out the left window. One of the two controls he uses to dock is shown -- it is the block handle just to the right of the lefthandside window. Both docking controls are shown in the next photograph.


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Both docking controls -- there are only two -- are shown here. The left hand docking control, the black knob to the left and just below the window, is smaller than the larger black handle to the right and below the window. Both levers are roughly on the same level. Just call me if you still can't find them. The shuttle commander docks by looking out this window. It takes the shuttle roughly two days after liftoff at Kennedy Space Center to catch up with and dock with the ISS about 200 miles above the Earth. The shuttle and the ISS orbit at about 18,000 miles an hour which takes 88-90 minutes per orbit. To land in Florida, the shuttle undocks and then does a de-orbit burn commonly over India or between India and Australia on the other side of the world. Once that de-orbit burn takes place the shuttle has no where else to go except KSC -- she is coming to the SLF at KSC. For the next 60 minutes the shuttle descends slowing, circling half of the world. Her speed declines from 18,000 mph to about 200 mph on landing. Pete has witnessed many landings in Florida and in California and says, "it never gets old; it gets me every time."


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The crawlway from the crew compartment to the orbiter bay and hatch. This is the crawlway crew uses to ingress and egress the ISS. This is Pete in the crawlway. Crawling is the only way to traverse it. Pete's jeans, belt buckle (lower left) and his feet wearing special booties suppied by NASA are visible. The view is toward the front of the shuttle. Directly above Pete is the hatch that docks with the ISS. Behind him is the orbiter bay -- his head actually is partly in the bay at this moment. The controls to open and close the hatch (photo below) are on his left and right. In the background in the crew compartment Carol Anne confers with a NASA Flow staff member in the Crew Compartment. The Flight Deck is the upper compartment; the crew compartment, the second of two shuttle decks, is directly below the flight deck. Entering the shuttle through a main hatch, you are on the Crew Deck. Access to the crawlway and the separate small ISS hatch is also located on the crew deck. To get to the flight deck you climb up a narrow ladder.


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ISS Docking/Hatch Controls -- used to open and close the hatch to the ISS. When Pete asked "what question do you wish someone would ask," a NASA tech replied "no one asks why the control to open the ISS hatch are upsidedown." So Pete asked and the guy told him, and now Pete has forgotten. Actually it has to do with how astronauts are lying when opening and closing the hatch. To us it looks like this photograph is upsidedown. To an astronaut in space, it looks just fine.


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This is the hatch to get to and from the ISS. The shuttle and the ISS docking devices are located just outside this hatch. To see the other wide of this hatch from the orbiter's bay, scroll down. The hatch is located toward the front of the shuttle and is accessed through a small crawlway. Orientation of this photo is toward top of the shuttle. The bottom of the shuttle with its insulating tile is directly opposite. This photo is taken by lying in the crawlway between the crew compartment and the orbiter's bay.


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The most common question crew and visitors alike ask is "where the bathroom?" Here's it is, just beyond this door on the crew deck adjacent to the main entrance hatch and to the right of the crawlway to the docking/ISS hatch. Got it? Now go use the restroom out in the hangar, second door on the left.


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The main desk at High Bay 1, OPF. There's nothing simple about servicing the orbiters. Every seven flights they had to be returned to Palmdale where they were manufactured and torn apart. The orbiters as built were extensively updated over their lives. Built to fly at least 100 times, none of the fleet of five flew anywhere near that number of flights. With only 135 flights for the entire fleet, the orbiters are being sent to museums with a lot of life left in them. What did in the program? The cost, and a lack of public interest. When President Barrack Obama visited Kennedy in April he and his family looked bored and stood around while being briefed with their arms folded and often were looking somewhere else.


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Safety signs are everywhere at Kennedy Space Center. No rings, keys, cellphones or anything in your pockets above the waist are allowed in the OPF. NASA was in the past in the business of doing the impossible. When President John Kennedy declared the US was going to the Moon in 1961, no one knew how to get there. When the US Air Force wanted an invisible plane, no one had any idea how to do it. This is what science does -- get a mission, get the money and then everybody stand back. Soon you're on the Moon. Soon you've got a plane invisible to radar. Current NASA officals, and perhaps Mr. Obama himself, apparently do not understand what science does or how it operates. When the second highest NASA offical spoke to Tweeters at KSC last year she declared that the Obama administration had canceled Constellation, the shuttle replacement, "because it doesn't work." The Tweeters, far more sophisticated than she imagined hooted and began yelling at her and she fled. Constellation was soon re-instated, but then killed again.


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Shuttle close-ups: A Nose you cannot help but love. This is the front nose of the shuttle. The cockpit/flight deck windows (shown below), not really visible in this picture. The windows are not behind the silver covering -- that is an optical illusion. The flight deck windows are at the top of this photograph, just below the white beam.


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Shuttle close-ups: Flight decks window, looking directly down. There are four front facing windows.


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Shuttle close-ups: Insulating tiles on the bottom of the shuttle. The hole in the middle of each tile is to check whether moisture has gotten in behind the tiles. The tiles are bonded to the shuttle, but the tiles will absorb great amounts of water if the seal is breached. This would endanger the shuttle. After landing every tile was carefully checked before the shuttle was sent into space again.


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NASA has been removing everything from the shuttle that might be of later use. The cost of purchasing engines for a later space project, for example, can be saved if the shuttle engines are moved and stored. In April when we visited the OPF the Discovery engines were still in place. Now, shown in this photo, they have been removed and stored. Mockups matching exactly the appearance of the engines and other parts will be on the shuttle when she arrives in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian in early 2012. Discovery will look the same -- but she will not be. This is a mild point of contention between NASA and the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian argues that by having a complete shuttle, exactly as flown, the shuttle will be available for later study. But that is not to be -- budget constraints and worries about availability of money for future space projects has made NASA wary and protective of what it has. NASA is keeping the shuttle engines and other parts. The Smithsonian gets painted plywood.


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Shuttle close-ups: The bay of the shuttle. The front of the shuttle is to our right; the back to our left. The docking hatch is roughly halfway up this photograph on the righthand side. The crew compartment and flight deck are to our right. The photo is taken standing beside, not on the shuttle itself.


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We were invited to sign our names on the wall as we left the Shuttle Discovery. Our signatures appear in the lower right of this photo.

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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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On June 21, 2011, NASA invited 85 journalists to come to Florida, visit and photograph the inside and outside of the Shuttle Discovery, the oldest survivor of the Shuttle fleet. Early next year Discovery will be taken to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, and placed on display. On Tuesday, June 21, the media were allowed on both decks of the Discovery, invited to crawl to the hatch which attached the Discovery to the International Space Station, and to the cargo bay. They were free to prowl outside and around the Shuttle which is in High Bay 1, Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF).

As the media were leaving the Discovery flight deck, they were invited to sign their names on the wall using a marker.

The header photograph is a portion of the wall where media, and others, signed. At the Smithsonian it is believed the public will have no access to the decks of the Discovery and the signatures of the media, the workers and others who contributed to this remarkable program and who were invited to sign the wall will be visible only to Museum officials.

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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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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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(this link courtesy of Francie Marrs)

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

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Shuttle mating and un-mating to the 747 which carried it back to KSC took place in this device. - NASA Photo

When the weather or other conditions forced the shuttles to land in California or New Mexico, the shuttles had to be returned to Florida for servicing and to be prepared for another launch. Accomplishing the return of a shuttle from an alternative landing site was time-consuming and expensive.

The first landings of the shuttles were planned for Edwards Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles, because of the size of the landing area. Edwards is a large dry lake bed in the high desert. But once landing was mastered which happened soon enough, the shuttles landed in Florida. With a few exceptions through the 135 shuttle missions, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is where they returned from space and landed.

Atlantis on her way back to Florida. She will launch on July 8, 2011, the final shuttle launch ever. -NASA Photo

When a shuttle landed elsewhere, it was returned to Florida on top of a Boeing 747 specially rigged to carry it. Carrying the shuttle on top of a 747 was also used in flight tests before the actual shuttle missions in space began in 1981.

When a shuttle landed on its own in Florida, it was relatively easy (nothing was ever really easy in the shuttle program); the shuttle was simply towed back to one of three OPFs (“orbiter processing facility” or hangar).

When the shuttle returned to KSC and landed atop a 747, the 747 would taxi to the south end of the SLF (“shuttle landing facility” or runway) and using the device shown in the large photograph below, the shuttle would be removed from the 747, and then towed back to one of the OPFs.
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Returning the shuttle after landing at an alternative landing site was expensive and time-consuming. To return to Florida after a landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, took two flying days and, reportedly, cost more than a million dollars. I took this photographs, and the one below, on one of my visits to the southern end of the SLF on May 17, 2011.


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When shuttles were returned to KSC atop a 747, they taxied to the south end of the runway (SLF) to this device where the shuttle was removed.


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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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Looking at ceiling, up Tower A of the VAB. Note that the tower goes all the way up, but that an area is open between Tower A (left) and Tower B (lower portion of photograph). This is obviously not a great picture.

How the VAB is constructed. The Vehicle Assembly Buiding at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is the largest building, in terms of volume, in the world.

The VAB was constructed in the mid-1960s to assemble the rockets and capsule in the Apollo program. The Apollo program landed men on the Moon six times between 1969 and 1972. It also served in the Skylab program and for the past 30 years has been the place where the shuttles have been mated with their rockets prior to being taken, as a single unit, to the launching pads.

The VAB, at 500 feet, is an iconic building of the American space program and is visible for miles. It is adjacent and mere steps from the Launch Control Center and its four firing rooms where the Apollo, Skylab and Shuttles have been launched. The VAB is also directly across the street from the Complex 39 Media Site where all media coverage of the launches of the shuttle originates. The VAB is adjacent to the three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF), the shuttle hangars. To the northwest of the VAB, several miles away, is the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), the runway where shuttles land in Florida. Shuttles also land in California and New Mexico when weather conditions do not permit a Florida landing.

The VAB is constructed of six supporting towers designated A, B, C, D, E and F. Three of these towers each inter-connect up to the 16th floor on opposite sides of the main open bay. The bays between the towers are open above the 16th floor.

The shuttle bays themselves are in between the D and E, and the E and F towers. Therefore, to place a shuttle in one of the shuttle bays, a shuttle must first be lifted from the main central bay, above the 16th floor, and then moved laterally into the shuttle bay, before being lowered and secured to the five-story high Crawler which will carry the shuttle to the launching pad.

Floor plan of the Vehicle Assembly Building. On May 18, 2011, the shuttle Atlantis was moved from the Transfer Aisle into High Bay 1 between Towers D and E.

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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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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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