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Shuttle re-entry seen from space!

ISS photo of space shuttle Atlantis re-entering Earth's atmosphere

The glowing wake of space shuttle Atlantis as she re-entered the atmosphere for the final time.

THESE AMAZINGS VIEWS of the space shuttle Atlantis—looking like the track of a firefly against clouds and city lights—on its way home, were snapped by the Expedition 28 crew aboard the International Space Station. Airglow over Earth can be seen in the background.

ISS photo of space shuttle Atlantis re-entering Earth's atmosphere

Another view of Atlantis' re-entry.

ISS photo of space shuttle Atlantis re-entering Earth's atmosphere

Atlantis disappears over the horizon.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Atlantis – the final launch

SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS lifted off at 1:29am Sydney time, July 9, 2011 (11:29am US Eastern Time, July 8th) to begin the STS-135 mission, the last of the shuttle programme.

“With today’s final launch of the space shuttle we turn the page on a remarkable period in America’s history in space, while beginning the next chapter in our nation’s extraordinary story of exploration,” Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Tomorrow’s destinations will inspire new generations of explorers, and the shuttle pioneers have made the next chapter of human spaceflight possible.”

The STS-135 crew consists of Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. They will deliver the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module filled with more than 4,000 kilograms of supplies and spare parts to sustain space station operations after the shuttles are retired.

“The shuttle’s always going to be a reflection to what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through,” Ferguson said shortly before lift-off. “We’re not ending the journey today—we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end.”

The mission includes flying the Robotic Refuelling Mission, an experiment designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed for robotic refuelling of satellites in space, even satellites not designed for servicing. The crew also will return with an ammonia pump that recently failed on the station. Engineers want to understand why the pump failed and improve designs for future spacecraft.

Atlantis is on a 12-day mission and scheduled to dock to the station at 1:06am Sydney time on Monday, July 11 (11:06am on Sunday, July 10, US Eastern Time).

STS-135 is the 135th shuttle flight, the 33rd flight for Atlantis and the 37th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance.

Here are some more clips of the launch, from different angles and at different stages of the process:

Information and videos courtesy NASA.

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A home in space

A view of the International Space Station in orbit

A view of the International Space Station from space shuttle Atlantis

These images of the International Space Station (ISS) were taken from the space shuttle Atlantis as it made its departure from the Station in May, towards the conclusion of the STS-132 mission.

The STS-132 and ISS Expedition 23 crews concluded seven days of cooperative work onboard the shuttle and station. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 10:22am (US CDT) on May 23, 2010. Earth and the blackness of space provide the backdrop for these scenes.

Links to the full-size, high-resolution versions of these photos are at the bottom of this story.

A view of the International Space Station in orbit

The International Space Station sails over the blue oceans below

A view of the International Space Station in orbit

Looking straight down from shuttle Atlantis, to a cloud-studded ocean.

A view of the International Space Station in orbit

Now flying over dry mountains, the slightly different angle enables other parts of the Station to come into better view.

A view of the International Space Station in orbit

A final farewell from Atlantis, with the dwindling Station just visible to the left of the shuttle's tail.

Links to full-size, high-resolution versions of the images (will open in new windows):

  1. International Space Station image 1
  2. International Space Station image 2
  3. International Space Station image 3
  4. International Space Station image 4
  5. International Space Station image 5

Images courtesy NASA.

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