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The Mars Science Lab, atop an Atlas rocket, is moved from its hangar (left) to Pad 41 (right — the four lightning towers) where it is scheduled to begin a 9 month trip to the surface of Mars at 10:02 am, Saturday, November 26, 2011. This photo, taken about 9 am, Friday, November 25, 2011, shows the MSL stack about midway between the pad and the hangar. The photo was taken from The Beach House, a relaxation villa for astronauts (and once a private from before the space center took the property) on the Atlantic Ocean beach. On the extreme far right of this photograph, Pad 39-A, is visible. The final shuttle missions were launched from 39-A.
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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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A collection of NASA’s stunning photographs from the final shuttle mission, STS-135. They are reproduced here in largest size — click to enlarge. You are free to use the NASA photos in this post, but NASA requests you credit NASA if you do.

The final moments in the Shuttle program. Shuttle Atlantis settles onto Runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center 6 am, July 21, 2011. This is the back of the shuttle.


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This is seconds after the shuttle has landed ... note, the parachute is deployed and the shuttle is rapidly slowly. Shuttles land about 190-210 miles an hour. An hour earlier, just before beginning its de-orbit burn on the other side of the world, often over the Indian Ocean, the shuttle is moving 17,900 miles an hour.


Down and safe for the final time, Atlantis is rolling out on Runway 15. This photograph was taken just after Atlantis' parachute was jettisoned. The 15 (northern) end of the runway was brightly lit in order to get photos of the shuttle landing. This photograph was taken from the southern end of the runway, looking north up the runway toward the 15 end.


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Pad 39-A, morning of the final launch, July 21, 2011. The now-torn-down Pad 39-B, from which shuttles were also launched, is in the top of the picture, toward the left.


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Press Complex 39, the morning of the final launch. Many media spent the entire night at the Cape sleeping in their cars, although few believed (incorrectly) that the launch would go that day. About 3,000 media were accredited for the launch, exceeding 2,200 for the final Moon mission in 1972. Of the 3,000 accredited, fewer than 10 went to Houston to cover the ten days of the mission itself.

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The final operational shuttle, The Atlantis, OV-104, awaits launch at Pad 39-A, Kennedy Space Center, on July 4, 2011.

The scheduled launch of mission STS-135, was Friday morning, July 8, but by July 4, weather had begun closing in and launch on time was becoming increasingly unlikely.

If the shuttle did not launch at the first window opportunity, a hoped-for opportunity to add an extra day to the final mission would fade.

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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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These 20 photographs were taken by either Pete Crow or Carol Anne Swagler on June 17, 2011 between 5:30 am and 3:30 pm at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

DAWN, June 17, 2011 === A camera bank on the south side of Pad 39-A tracks the launches. Shuttles were launched from either Pad 39-A or, five-eighths of a mile north, Pad 39-B. By the time of the STS-135 launch, the final launch in the shuttle program, Pad 39-B had been torn torn in order to be re-purposed for the Constellation program which was eventually canceled.


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The shuttles are brought to the launch pad from the vehicle assembly building (the VAB) on a highway made of river rock from Alabama and Mississippi. The final highway up and onto the launch pad itself is a grate encased in concrete. In this photo the rotating service structure is open, but in order to place the payload into the shuttle, the RSS would be closed and would remain closed with the shuttle until about 18 hours before launch.


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This is a closeup of the concreted grated roadway on the launch pad.


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The Rotating Service Structure pivots to cover the shuttle, and away to allow delivery of the payload (white box midway up the RSS, and for launch. This photo was after the payload had been delivered to the pad, but prior to placement of the payload into the bay of the shuttle.


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Two elevators go from the floor of the pad to Level 255. The RSS continues on to level 295, but to get there you walk up stairs. The RSS' floors are not called "floors" -- they are called "levels" and are designated in how many feet a level is above the pad floor. The elevator panel shows this elevator is at Level 255 or, 255 feet above the pad's floor.


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The views from Level 255 at the top of the RSS are spectacular, especially if it is a clear day. This photograph looks toward the northwest, to the now demolished Pad 39-B where shuttles were also launched, and to the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The launch pads at Kennedy Space Center are all only short distances from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The idea was to launch over the ocean and should mishaps occur, not to endanger anyone.


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Flooring on the RSS is all open metal grate which means by looking up or down you can see either sky or the base of the pad. This photograph, taken at Level 235 looks up at people walking on Level 255. If heights bother you, walking the open grates on the top of the RSS will terrify you Oddly, Pete -- no lover of heights -- loved this place. Carol Anne, always fearless, tended to hang by the elevators at first before testing how sturdy the metal grating was with her foot..


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This is another view from Level 255. This is toward the northeast. The Atlantic Ocean is about midway up the photograph. Note the balloon with the picture of the bird hanging. It is just to the left of the water tower.


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Birds, and specifically woodpeckers, are a serious threat to the shuttle because they attack the covering of the main booster rocket. Two people are stationed on the pad, one on the top of the pad, and one person on the bottom. When they see a bird that might threaten the shuttle, they blow horns to scare them away. Balloons with pictures of scary birds are also attached in different places to scare off the woodpeckers.


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Birds are not only a probably at the launch pad, they are also a concern when the shuttle is landing on the Shuttle Landing Facility (runway). Sometimes, prior to landing, canons will be set off to scare the birds off. The woman, center of picture, is sitting beside, and looking at, the bottom of the booster rockets which are out of frame on the left. She is one of two bird guards. She is armed with a small air horn which she blows when she sees a threatening bird. She works 12 hour shifts. Bird guarding the shuttle is a cat-and-mouse game. Note the bird on the railing in the far right of the picture watching the woman who is watching the rockets (out of view to her left). Not all birds get the horn, mostly its the woodpeckers.


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On the right is a walkway leading into the shuttle. This is where the crew enters the flight deck. The rockets that power the shuttle into space are in the middle and left of the picture. This was taken, looking down, from Level 255. During the day, we would eventually visit all elevator levels, starting at the top of the RSS and gradually working our way down.


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This view is roughly equivalent in height to the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building. To take this picture, Pete moved far out to the end of the RSS, then climbed a narrow walkway and stood on a catwalk on Level 235. He would have never found it himself. The NASA escort, Pat, showed him in detail how to get there; she didn't go with him, but eventually Carol Anne did.


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Another Level 235 view, showing move of the RSS in relation to the shuttle.


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Carol Anne at Level 235. NASA took journalists onto the RSS in groups of five and allowed them lots of time to roam and explore. With the shuttle program ending, many facilities hitherto highly restricted to only a few members of the media are now being made accessible.


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Level 195 is the crew access level and can be a busy place. It is the only level that we saw that has a detailed map of what is where.


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This walkway leads from the RSS, and the elevators, to middeck of the shuttle. Directly behind us is the RSS. Directly ahead of us, through those two doors, is the middeck of the Shuttle Atlantis. Why are there yellow arrows on the floor? Because once suited up the astronauts can see very little, except the floor. Why do the arrows lead away from, instead of to the shuttle? Because the arrows lead to escape baskets. If a mishap should occur and the astronauts had to escape from the shuttle while still on the pad, they would follow these arrows to the baskets..


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The arrows lead here. Astronauts would individually get into one of seven baskets, release a lever and be ziplined to safety below. Their landing site at the end of the zipline is the white space visible in distance. The device was never used, and astronauts, while knowing how to use the devices, never practiced. Years ago press conferences with the astronauts were held at the bottom of the zipline with the RSS and shuttle in the background. This is a view to the north.


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This is not the base of the pad, but it is the bottom of the shuttle and the rockets. This is an industrial place. This is a south view. The woman with the air horn is to our left. The highway leading to the Pad is on our right. The rockets are in the left of the picture extending upward, and the shuttle, attached to the rockets, is on the mid-right of the photograph. Media were allowed to walk right up to the shuttle and rockets, but not under the shuttle's wings.


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The shuttle is on the right, and the rockets on the left. Pete has covered dozens of missions all the way back to Apollo in 1972, but as he said to his escort the day he visited the RSS and Pad 39-A, "this gets me every time." The escort, who has worked at KSC for many years was similarly moved and replied simply, "me too." The end of the shuttle program is doubly hard because the United States has no further manned space mission plans in its pipeline. From now on to get to the International Space Station that the United States largely built, the United States will be paying the Russians and riding on their vehicles.


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NASA took the media to the RSS in groups of five. As we left the Pad Pete asked the escort to stop for a last look. Exiting the van Pete stepped back against the fence and took this picture. The man in the photo is another journalist who toured the RSS with Pete and Carol Anne. The location appears to be in the middle of no where, but actually is steps from the guard gate, the crawler way and the pad exit.

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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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CLICK to ENLARGE // Over Pete Crow's left shoulder, the white rectangular box holds the payload for the Atlantis shown here on Pad 39-A the afternoon of June 17, 2011. The payload arrived overnight June 16-17 at the pad and will be loaded into the Atlantis' bay on Monday, June 20. - photo, Carol Anne Swagler for Seine/Harbour® Productions

Atlantis edged closer to its planned July 8, 2011, launch on Friday, June 17, 2011, when the payload for its bay arrived at Pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Friday was employee day at the Pad. All KSC employees who wished to visit the Launch Pad were invited to do so although, unlike the press, they were not allowed to go onto the Pad itself, or up on the Rotating Service Structure (the RSS).

The RSS is currently retracted from the Shuttle, and in the photograph is behind and to the right of Pete. But beginning on Monday and until about 18 hours before launch, the RSS will be tucked around and protecting the Shuttle allowing, among other activities, the payload to be placed into the Atlantis’ cargo bay.

See video of how it works HERE.

The cargo on this final launch in the shuttle program’s 30-year history includes provisions for the International Space Shuttle for a year and an innovative new way to re-energize fading satellites in space.

When STS-135, the current mission, ends in late July, NASA will have launched its shuttle fleet 135 times with two tragic mishaps, a safety record far better than the estimates at the beginning of the program in 1981 when one estimate anticipated the loss of a shuttle every 25 missions.
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Atlantis viewed from Level 255 of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) on June 17, 2011. The RSS does not have floors, it has "levels" measured in feet. The highest the elevators in the RSS go is level 255, or 255 feet above the pad floor. However, stairways on the RSS continue up an additional 40 feet above the highest elevator level ending at Level 295. Visitors to the RSS are escorted by people who receive extensive safety training. When exiting elevators, visitors are encouraged to "look up -- do not look down" because the RSS is built with almost entirely open grate flooring. Narrow catwalks extend from the center of the structure with only modest railings. If heights bother you, walking on open grates at the top of the RSS will terrify you. - photo, petecrow for Seine/Harbour® Productions

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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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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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The shuttle Atlantis left the Vehicle Assembly Building for what is likely to be the final time on the evening of May 31, 2011. Shown here she is about 40 minutes into her journey from the VAB to Pad 39-A. Pad 39-A the only surviving shuttle launch pad; 39-B is being torn down. Atlantis is scheduled to be launched no earlier than July 8, 2011.

Atlantis is on the right in the photograph, and her destination, Launch Pad 39-A, is tiny but visible at the left. The journey from VAB to Pad takes about six hours and was completed shortly after a different shuttle, the orbiter Eneavour, had landed at Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on runway 15 (SLF = runway) at 2:32 am June 1, 2011.

It was a big night at Kennedy Space Center, one of the biggest ever.

The media first watched Atlantis be rolled of the VAB starting at 8 pm.

By 2:32 am the media had moved over to the landing field, the Shuttle Landing Facility, to watch Atlantis’ sister ship, the Endeavour, return from space and land.

Then 4:30 am a press conference on the Endeavour mission was held.

At 6 am the media was back out at Pad 39-A to watch the sun rise over Atlantis.

During the evening on May 31, 2011, the four person crew of the final shuttle mission on Atlantis, designated STS-135, were at Kennedy holding a press conference outside the media press center at the Complex 39 Press Center using Atlantis on the way to the pad in the background.

By dawn, Kennedy public relations people, and the media, were exhausted.

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By 9:30pm, Tuesday, May 31, 2011, the Shuttle Atlantis was out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on its way to Pad 39-A, visible at the left side of this picture.

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As soon as we pulled off for the obligatory morning picture of the Days-to-Launch sign, cars pulled off and piled up around us. Happy surprise -- we've been hanging and talking with these guys. This is a busy picture. I'm taking a picture of them, including Carol Anne who is taking a picture of them, and the guy on the far right is taking a picture of me. Covering stories like shuttle launches, reporters are easily amused and often have too much time on their hands for stuff like this.

This morning we will move to the Cape and remain at the Pad 39 Media Site at Kennedy Space Center until either STS-134 is launched, or until the mission is scrubbed.

8:30 am, Celebration, FL. With Carol Anne in tow, we make the morning provisioning stop at a donut shop across on Highway 192, then head onto the 417 for the Beachline (State 528) and the coast. As expected traffic at this hour on a Sunday morning is nill.

We are on our way to watch the rotating service structure (RSS) be retracted from the shuttle at Pad 39-A. It is scheduled for Noon, and we have to be on the bus and clear of security by 10:30 am. No problem. We breeze over to the coast and through the gates onto Kennedy Space Center and arrive early. The day is surprisingly comfortable with a breeze and although the sun is out, humidity is low.

I’ve covered this event before, but Carol Anne has not. I notice that the media has been moved back from the gate leading up to the launch pad another few yards. It doesn’t matter. If someone is in front of you, as the tripod guys always are, just step back a few feet and you can see the entire pad. It’s not hard to miss.

Roughly a quarter to a third of the 1,500 accredited reporters showed up for the trip out to Pad 39-A Sunday morning, May 15, 2011, to watch the rotating service structure (RSS) be retracted from the shuttle. As a result, NASA needed a tons of buses. The rotating service structure (RSS) retraction is shown in a sequence of five pictures -- scroll down. It's the next post following this.

11:50 am, Pad 39-A. Happily, and surprisingly, the rotating service structure (RSS) begins about 10-minutes ahead of schedule and well before 1 pm we are back at the Media Center.

To see the Retraction of the rotating service structure (RSS) : scroll down — the retraction is shown in a series of five pictures in the post directly following this post.

1 pm, media center. This place is still empty, and as we left the bus we noticed the parking lot was emptying out. We have a short debate as to whether we should leave KSC and find lunch. It is a short debate. We have so much time that it cannot matter even if we begin to get caught in the growing crowds that will likely be flocking to the Cape later this afternoon and evening.

I field a phone call from my cousin. A friend of his, a motion picture director, wants my advice as to where he (the director and his family) should view the launch.

The shuttles are brought to the launch pads on Crawlers. The roadbed of the Crawlway is river rock from Alabama and Tennessee. Pete Crow is among the reporters and photographers lying on the Shuttle Crawler near Pad 39 A on Sunday, May 15, 2011, waiting for the RSS to be retracted from Shuttle Eneavour. This is the second to last shuttle mission, STS-134.

Well, ahem, he probably should have bluffed his way into the VIP section starting weeks ago, but it’s too late now. I am running a link to the public viewing areas that NASA recommends on each of these blog posts because it is often difficult to find the link on the NASA site. I refer them to NASA and that link and am hoping for the best for them. Fact is, in all the launches I’ve seen, I’ve only watched one outside of the press site so I’m a complete pilgrim on where to watch launches around here.

1:30 pm Shuttles Restaurant. Shuttles is an amiable sports bar south of Kennedy Space Center Gate 2 on State Highway 3. We first found it a few launches ago. It is much closer than retreating all the way to Titusville to the west or going all the way south to Cocoa Beach. The real draw of this place, however, is the great food.

Shuttles, a sports bar, on State Road 3 south of the entrance to KSC. Good food, but could it be an endangered species? -- with the shuttle program ending, this could put a great restaurant/sports bar under duress unless you drive over and have a bite and a beer every so often. And no, my brother-in-law doesn't own the place.

Shuttles, winkwink, is obviously named for the Space Shuttles, but someone around there also seems to be a Boston Red Sox fan.

The place is empty. Good for us, but not so good for Shuttles. We are completely mis-gauging the size of the crowds. So far the roads are completely empty. In the end we zip over to Shuttles and back seeing virtually no cars.

3:00 pm Media Center. We ease into the empty media parking lot. We now suspect that the media will filter in beginning early evening. If we’re right, and if the media is coming at all, this is a new age. It used to be that the media would be here .

4:00 pm. Carol Anne is out sleeping in the car and I’m in the completely empty media annex where my work space is. I have checked the adjoining workspaces and now find most are unassigned. On April 29, they were all assigned. Apparently lots of media organizations are not returning.

Astronaut Michael Good being interviewed. There's plenty to hate about Astronauts -- they're good-looking, articulate, intelligent and they're the kind of guys who always get the girl. The problem is, however, they're also likable, intelligent and engaging to be around. I encountered Mr. Good briefly as he passed through the annex on his way to interviews on Sunday, May 15, 2011.

The lost Astronaut. A guy in a blue jump suit has wandered into the annex and is drfiting around looking lost. He hwinds up at the back tables behind me reading names of organizations taped to the tables.

He is astronaut Michael T. Good who he flew on two shuttle missions and now lives in Colorado. Check his entire NASA bio out HERE .It’s worth reading. I’ve interviewed Astronauts over the years. It is hard not to be holy-freaking-cow about Astronauts — about where they have been, about how superbly trained they are, about how just plain gutsy it is to climb the shuttle and be launched at many times the force of gravity into space, and lots more.

I’m standing here face-to-face with a guy who has logged seven minutes shy of 30 hours of walking in space, and flown two shuttle missions (May 2009, STS-125, and May 2010, STS-132).

With Astronauts, and with anyone you’re interviewing, the thrust of any story is always “tell me about it”. But with Astronauts? — how can they ever really tell you about it?

I go back and introduce myself to Astronaut Good. I ask him if interviews with Astronauts that NASA is offering are one-on-one or in crowds. He says he has no idea, and in fact says he is lost, adding he is rarely if ever has been to the media site. We walk over to the main media site and we chat along the way. In the main media center he is quickly oriented, finds his NASA handler and heads for his scheduled interviews.

10 pm, media site. Gorgeous night at the Cape. Gentle wind, nearly full moon, humidity is low. Carol Anne and I walk the site, still looking for the Tweeters. Of the 150, only 80 will return. NASA polled them to see who wanted to come back a second time. Only half were able to do so. Tweeters pay their own way; last time the April 29 launch was on a Friday.

Back at the media center, I move my stuff from the annex to an open table in the back of the main media center. Only three NASA personnel are working the site, including an affable PR woman from Marshall Space Flight in Huntsville, AL. We chat. It has been years since I have been in Huntsville, but in the 1950s my brother-in-law worked as a very junior memberon Wernher von Braun‘s engineering team there at Redstone Arsenal, and another brother-in-law’s family owned the Coca-Cola bottling company there and a lot of the downtown. My eldest niece was even born there.

A long time ago. The town has grown.

Media too seem to be missing in action. From my past experiences of being buried in traffic, I may have over-reacted to the number of people who would be flowing out to the Cape to watch the launch.

I’m weary and head for the car to sleep. Before I go I see that the media is being invited to watch the launch from Banana Creek, the VIP site. I sign up, but before I go I’ll check and try to learn more about it.

A decision on whether to fuel will be made at 11 pm. and if the go is given, the tanks will be filled shortly before 3 am. I’ll be asleep long before either event. … and to to bed.

“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 list of best viewing sites to watch shuttle launches HERE
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Launch Pad 39-A shortly before rotating service structure (RSS) retraction began.

This series of photographs shows the retraction of the rotating service structure (RSS) that keeps the shuttle safe on the launching pad which must be retracted in the hours before launch. The retraction of the rotating service structure (RSS) from the shuttle Endeavor was scheduled for Noon EDT, Sunday, May 15, 2011. In fact, it began a few minutes early. Retraction takes about 45 minutes. The next major step for the launch is fueling. This is scheduled to begin at 11:36 pm, May 16, 2011, roughly twelve hours after the RSS has been retracted. The Astronauts will be brought to the launch pad starting about 4 am. If all goes well Endeavour will lift off Pad 39-A at 8:56 am, Monday, May 16, 2011, on her way to the International Space Station.

This is the final launch of the Endeavour, the newest member of the shuttle fleet. Mission STS-134 is the second to last shuttle mission.

Launch Pad 39-A shortly before retraction of the rotating service structure (RSS) began.


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Retraction of rotating service structure (RSS) complete. Ready to go fly. Retraction was completed about 20-minutes ahead of schedule. With actual launch 21 hours away, weather remained unchanged with only a 30-percent chance of unfavorable weather scrubbing the flight.

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