Key Atlantis Missions (Courtesy of NASA)
Live feed, courtesy of NASA
Atlantis was the fourth shuttle built and operated by NASA. Its construction began March 30, 1980, and its first launch was on Oct. 3, 1985. This will be the final space shuttle to retire from NASA's fleet. Its last scheduled flight is set for Friday.
According to NASA, Atlantis has orbited the Earth 4,648 times and has traveled more than 120 million miles. It has spent 293 days, 18 hours and 29 minutes in space.
COVERAGE FROM CAPE CANAVERAL
Woman from Augusta area has new job at NASA as shuttle program winds down
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- It's a sad day for Evans, Ga., native Dana McAlhany-Hutcherson.
"We all get excited as we get close to launch, but it's starting to hit home," she told News 12.
With the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its way to the the International Space Station, the space shuttle program is nearing its end after 30 years and 135 launches.
Space Shuttle Atlantis isn't Hutcherson's baby, though. Hers would be Space Shuttle Endeavour.
"The mission went really well, you know, we're so glad that they had such a successful mission," she said.
Dana was NASA's flow director for Space Shuttle Endeavour for its final flight and mission. When Endeavour touched down last month, Hutcherson's time with the shuttle program was over, and her favorite shuttle went into its retirement.
"They've started deconfiguring Endeavour -- basically getting it ready for museums. They're going to take it to -- at this point it's slated to go to California," she said.
With tens of thousands of layoffs looming after the shuttle program ends this year, Hutcherson won't be one of them.
"Actually, just a few weeks ago, I started working with the commercial crew program," she told News 12.
It's a new NASA program that turns to private companies to get us to the International Space Station while the government comes up with something bigger to get us farther than that.
"This is our future. This is the next thing that we have which we're going to be focusing on -- some way that we can take astronauts up to the International Space Station," she said.
Right now, the way we'll be getting our astronauts up there is by paying the Russians to transport them there on their spacecraft, the Soyuz. That'll cost about $50 million per astronaut. Hutcherson says that's why relying on America's private sector is so important.
"The good thing about it is it'll be here in the United States," she said.
Hutcherson will be busy with the new program. Several private companies are already working with NASA to get our astronauts to the International Space Station in the near future.
"I actually personally decided to come over to this program, because, you know, I wanted to be a part of that, and I see a good future in it, and I do believe this is a good future for us," she told News 12.
Local man helped NASA mission to land man on moon; says final shuttle launch sad moment for nation
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- William Sam Carter has been around for a while.
"I remember standing in front of the bank here in Springfield on a dirt street bare-footed in 1929 when the bank closed," Carter said.
He grew up poor in the small town of Springfield, S.C., but his family made it work.
"All we needed to buy was coffee and chewing tobacco and sugar," he said.
Carter was just a young man when he was drafted into the Marine Corps. His destination was the Pacific Front of World War II. He served with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima, where he saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
"I don't know why I'm alive -- hiding behind bodies of dead Japanese to keep from getting shot yourself. Bodies of 20,000 of them piled up there to be buried," he told News 12.
He survived Iwo Jima but knew he wouldn't last too much longer.
"June and July they started preparing us mentally to go into Japan," he recalled.
He said they encouraged the soldiers to send their wills back home to their families.
A full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland would have been a bloody feat, but then the unthinkable happened: Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war was over.
Carter returned stateside, and after seeing how important the bomb was, he joined the Martin Marietta company to make missiles for his country's defense.
"The first missile I worked on was the Corporal Missile, and it went 20 miles," he said.
In 1957, the Soviet Union used a similar missile to launch the first object into space, a small satellite named Sputnik.
"When Russia went and beat us, [President John F. Kennedy] says, 'Fellas, we're going to the Moon. Do it,'" he paraphrased.
Carter was hired by Boeing to help fulfill the President's mission. What was his job?
"We had 14 subcontractors or suppliers. 14 hundred. Nothing could be shipped without my stamp and a government stamp," he told News 12.
After approving the parts for Boeing, they arrived at Kennedy Space Center and the Saturn V was built. America made it to the moon first.
"You can't explain it. It just tore you apart. It'd bring tears to your eyes," he said of the moon landing.
After the Apollo mission wrapped up, workers like Carter were gradually laid off.
"And then that day came when he says, 'Bill, I can't hold you any longer. Go home and stand by,'" he recalled.
Stand by for the ultimate replacement to the Apollo Program, the space shuttle, which had its first launch in 1981. With the space shuttle Program wrapping up 30 years later in 2011, this time the government has not announced a clear replacement to the space shuttle, and Carter is worried that the workers laid off this time may not be coming back.
"Everything today, I have never seen anything so uncertain," he said.
Carter says investing in space exploration not only strengthens the country militarily, but commercially, too. He hopes to make it down for this final emotional launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Friday, 11:38 a.m.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Atlantis has blasted off on NASA's last space shuttle launch.
The historic liftoff occurred Friday morning, 30 years and three months after the very first shuttle flight.
Four astronauts are riding Atlantis to orbit. The shuttle is bound for the International Space Station, making one final supply run.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators jammed Cape Canaveral and surrounding towns for the farewell. Kennedy Space Center itself was packed with shuttle workers, astronauts and 45,000 invited guests, the maximum allowed.
The flight will last 12 days. Weather permitting, Atlantis will return to Kennedy, where it will end up on permanent display.
Friday, 11:30 a.m.
After a slight delay 30 seconds before the launch was supposed to take place, Space Shuttle Atlantis has successfully launched into orbit. Watch our coverage at Midday.
Friday, 10:06 a.m.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) —The four crew members are on board the space shuttle Atlantis, but that doesn't mean they'll be going anywhere today. Forecasters still say there's a 70 percent chance of bad weather for the late-morning launch.
This Atlantis mission is the last one for the space shuttle program. The shuttle is carrying a year's worth of supplies to the International Space Station.
The launch director told the crew that there's still "a shot" that the launch could take place.
An estimated 750,000 people are expected to jam Cape Canaveral and surrounding towns for the final shuttle launch -- a crowd reminiscent of the ones that gathered for the Apollo moon shots.
Before dawn, cars and RVs were packed into almost every available space along U.S. 1 in Titusville, with cameras already trained on the launch pad.
Many people had planted chairs and staked out viewing locations just feet from the water.
Thursday, 11:30 a.m.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.(AP) — Thunderstorms are still threatening to delay NASA's last space shuttle launch, set for Friday.
On the eve of the historic liftoff, a senior manager said Thursday that NASA will try for an on-time launch of Atlantis anyway. That's despite a 70 percent chance bad weather would stop the liftoff.Launch time is 11:26 a.m.
Atlantis and four astronauts will carry a load of supplies to the International Space Station. Also on board are hundreds of crew patches and pins, as well as thousands of shuttle bookmarks for kids, to commemorate the 30-year program.
At least 750,000 people are expected to jam Cape Canaveral and surrounding towns for the launch. Dozens of astronauts already are in town, including the very first shuttle pilot Robert Crippen. He flew Columbia in 1981.
(Copyright 2011, The Associated Press)