Lead STS-129 spacewalker Mike Foreman trains in a swimming pool at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Nov. 18: The space shuttle's robotic arm grabs a cargo carrier from Atlantis' payload bay to transfer it to the International Space Station.
The space shuttle Atlantis is seen via a camera mounted to the exterior of the International Space Station as it arrives on Nov. 18, 2009 during NASA's STS-129 mission to deliver much-needed spare parts.
NASA's space shuttle Atlantis performs a "backflip" during the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver just before docking at the International Space Station on Nov. 18, 2009.
Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, a partial view of Space Shuttle Atlantis' payload bay, vertical stabilizer, orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods and docking mechanism are featured in this image photographed by an STS-129 crew member from an aft flight deck window
Backdropped by the blackness of space, a partial view of Space Shuttle Atlantis' payload bay, vertical stabilizer, orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods and docking mechanism are featured in this image photographed by an STS-129 crew member from an aft flight deck window.
Backdropped by a blanket of clouds, the external fuel tank (ET) is featured in this image photographed by the umbilical well camera aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis shortly after separating from the shuttle following launch.
The shuttle blasted off at 2:28 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The liftoff was the second-to-last planned flight for the 24-year-old orbiter — Atlantis is slated to be retired with its two sister shuttles in about a year.
"All the vehicle systems are outstanding today, the weather is near perfect," said launch director Mike Leinbach just before launch. "We wish you good luck, Godspeed, and we'll see you just after Thanksgiving," he said to the crew.
"We really appreciate all the effort that’s gone into making this launch attempt possible," responded commander Charlie Hobaugh. "We're excited to take this incredible vehicle for a ride and meet up with another incredible vehicle, the International Space Station."
Hobaugh is leading the six-member crew on the STS-129 resupply mission to ferry about 27,250 pounds worth of spare parts to the station. "Our flight is one of the first flights that externally will provide a lot of the spare parts and the long lead type of replacement items that are required to keep [the station] healthy and running for quite some time," Hobaugh said in a preflight news conference.
Among the large parts packed onto the shuttle are spare high-pressure gas tanks, pumps, power units and battery supplies, as well as parts for the station's robotic arm. The equipment is loaded into two massive platforms due to be installed on the station's backbone-like metal truss. The delivery should help set up the orbiting laboratory to continue to run after the space shuttles stop flying.
"These are the spares that will allow us to utilize the investment that we've put in," said Mike Sarafin, the lead shuttle flight director for the mission.
The launch also marked the first time NASA has invited Twitter followers to attend a liftoff. About 100 fans gathered in Cape Canaveral for a two-day "tweetup" to view the flight and learn more about NASA and the shuttle mission. "I can't stop jumping up and down!" said Jan DuRaine, who travelled from Valley Springs, Calif. to view the launch. "I want to experience the sights, the noise and the vibration from the sound waves. To me, this is the experience of a lifetime."
The space shuttle Atlantis roared into space on November 16th to begin a vital 11-day delivery run to the International Space Station. The liftoff was the second-to-last planned flight for the 24-year-old orbiter — Atlantis is slated for retirement, along with its two sister shuttles, in about a year. Read more