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Nasa's final space shuttle mission set for Friday

As the astronauts get ready for its final launch, we bring you everything you need to know about NASA’s space shuttle history.

Space shuttle Atlantis, from left to right, pilot Doug Hurley, mission specialist Rex Walheim, mission specialst Sandra Magnus and commander Chris Ferguson
Space shuttle Atlantis, from left to right, pilot Doug Hurley, mission specialist Rex Walheim, mission specialst Sandra Magnus and commander Chris Ferguson
Image: David J. Phillip/AP/Press Association Images

NASA WILL HOLD its last ever space shuttle mission this Friday, when the Atlantis orbiter leaves the Kennedy Space Centre to journey to the International Space Station.

The flight is scheduled for Friday 8 July at 3.26pm GMT and the four STS-135 crew members will be Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

They will take off, should all go to plan, on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station.

Their shuttle will carry the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module, containing supplies and spare parts for the space station and its crew.

The astronauts flew into Florida in advance of their mission yesterday from their training base in Houston, Texas.

The shuttles will be replaced by transportation services run by private companies.

Commander Ferguson commented:

I think I speak for the whole crew in that we are delighted to be here after a very arduous nine month training flow and we’re thrilled to finally be here in Florida for launch week.

The 30-year history of the NASA’s space shuttle programme is a fascinating one – so here’s some of TheJournal.ie‘s favourite facts about this incredible invention:

  • The space shuttle is the fastest winged vehicle ever to fly, with an orbital velocity of 17,500 mph
  • It has launched 802 crew members, which includes 356 different people
  • It was called the most complex machine ever built and more than 50 different shuttle versions were developed
  • The first meeting about the first model of the shuttle took place on 1 April 1969
  • Before the first shuttle flight, NASA bought two Gulfstream II business jets and converted them into shuttle training aircraft
  • The shuttles meant that for the first time astronauts well over six feet tall could fly in space
  • The first flight lasted just over two days, six hours and 20 minutes – it orbited the earth 36 times and travelled 1,074,111 miles
  • For the third flight, the external tank was left its original rust colour, which saved 595 pounds in white paint and meant they could take more cargo
  • The tenth shuttle walk saw the program’s first spacewalks and the demonstration of a jet backpack
  • On one trip, they brought two squirrel monkeys and 24 rats flown to test cages - but when they opened the cages food debris and faeces floated into the lab
  • On 28 January 1986, tragedy struck when the Challenger shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch. The seven crew members were killed
  • After this public disaster, NASA was forbidden, with certain exceptions, to launch commercial satellites
  • It  formed a connection with Russian space station Mir which laid the foundation for the International Space Station
  • Tragedy struck again in 2003 when space shuttle Columbia broke apart minutes away from its landing on 1 February, killing all seven crew members
  • More than 25,000 people spent 1.5 million hours searching an area almost as big as Connecticut looking for debris. They and the public found 84,000 pieces of Columbia
  • A bouquet of roses has been delivered to the mission control centre in Houston for every launch since 1988,  sent by supporters Mark and Terry Shelton who live in Dallas
  • So far, 198,728.25 man-hours have been spent on the shuttle – that’s 8,280 man (and woman!)-days
  • The astronauts perform ISLE, or In Suit Light Exercise, before spacewalks to reduce the nitrogen in their body
  • The final space shuttle landing is scheduled on 20 July, the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11′s historic landing on the moon.

Keep up to date with the mission on the official NASA website>

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