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Shuttle Atlantis Farewell Mission: Earth Image of the Week July 15, 2011
Space Shuttle Atlantis in final orbit.
Space Shuttle Atlantis approaching the International Space Station on July 10, 2011.
A key chapter in the history of human space flight is drawing to a close 290 nautical miles above Earth’s surface.

Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS 135) blasted off for the final time on July 8, 2011, from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

Commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Douglas Hurley, mission specialist Sandra Magnus and mission specialist Rex Waldheim are the final crew that will ever reach orbit on America’s Space Shuttle program.

The four-member crew is the smallest for a Space Shuttle mission since 1983. NASA was concerned that no backup Shuttle was available for a potential rescue.

This means that should anything prevent STS 135 from returning to Earth, the crew would be forced to stay on the International Space Station (ISS) and return home one at a time over the next year aboard Russian Soyouz spacecraft.

The image to the upper right, taken from the ISS, shows Atlantis with its cargo bays open and a portion of the Bahamas in the background.

Clearly visible is the cylindrical Multi-Purpose Logistics Module being delivered to the space station. It contains a maximum capacity of 16 resupply racks packed with a year’s worth of supplies for the ISS. The weight of the entire payload taken into orbit was 28,418 pounds.

STS 135 will also bring back a “Down-mass Payload” of used equipment, waste and other items no longer needed on the ISS.

An Apple iPhone is being used by astronauts to log experiments, and will be left on the ISS for future use, presumably through the orbiting platform’s WiFi network.

Full story and image: NASA