The End of an Era

The Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on its historic 12-day mission just after 11:26 a.m. Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Retired Navy Capt. Chris Ferguson will command the 135th and final flight in NASA’s storied 30-year shuttle program. Other members of the crew include retired Air Force Col. Rex Walheim, who is making his third trip into space and will serve as a mission specialist; Marine Col. Doug Hurley, STS-135 pilot; and Sandra Magnus, a mission specialist. The smaller crew is intended to accommodate the Russian capsules that would be used in case Atlantis—the last of NASA’s operating space shuttles—can’t return to Earth. Atlantis is carrying a Raffaello Multi-purpose Logistics Module payload that will carry supplies, logistics, and spare parts to the International Space Station, and a lightweight multi-purpose carrier used to return a failed ammonia pump for troubleshooting and analysis, according to NASA. Two of NASA’s resident space station astronauts are scheduled to do one final spacewalk. (STS-135 background document; caution, large file.)