Thursday, July 14, 2011

Goddard's Role in Final Flight of Atlantis

Orbiter Atlantis lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:29 a.m. EDT, July 8, 2011, to begin the STS-135 mission. This was the final launch in the Space Shuttle Program.

Though the launch is finished, work is just beginning for staff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center more than 800 miles away from the launch pad, just outside Washington, D.C., in Greenbelt, Md.

Goddard employees will work around-the-clock to guarantee the four astronauts aboard Atlantis have constant, uninterrupted lines of communication with Mission Control. The careful dance of satellite relays necessary to keep channels open requires global coordination, but it all comes together in Goddard’s Network Integration Center. Goddard has fulfilled this communication role in literally all of NASA’s manned space flights: We all know the words, “One small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind,” but no one on Earth would have heard Neil Armstrong say them on July 21, 1969, if not for Goddard.

The space shuttle has been vital in humanity’s ability to reach beyond Earth’s horizon. The 135 orbiter flights have not merely taken humans to space: They have carried satellites, telescopes, science experiments and more. Among Atlantis’s final contributions is the Robotic Refueling Mission, developed at Goddard. Atlantis will bring this module to the International Space Station, where it will provide key support in maintaining future spacecrafts for years to come. STS-135 astronauts traveled to Goddard to complete special training for these robotics, a major component of the final shuttle mission. RRM is one of dozens of Goddard payloads to travel aboard orbiters into space throughout the 30-year flight history of the Shuttle Program.

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