On July 8, 2011, the final flight of the space shuttle program launched from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Saint Louis Science Center didn’t miss a second of it.

The James S. McDonell Planetarium was free and open to the public on the day of the launch. From families to summer camps, everyone was there counting down the seconds until blastoff.  

“I feel elated to watch the last shuttle launch,” said David Ritchey, Associate Director of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium.

The Atlantis space shuttle had 32 flights with NASA, beginning on October 3, 1985.

Atlantis STS-135, which is the 135th shuttle mission, set out for a 13-day mission to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). The shuttle only held four astronauts: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. According to NASA’s STS-135 mission summary, “The overall mission is to deliver supplies, replacement components and the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module is the main payload.”  

The Raffaello is a large pressurized container that weighs about 9,000 lbs. “The Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, also known as MPLM-2, is one of three multi-purpose logistics modules by NASA used to transfer supplies and equipment to and from the International Space Station” according to NASA. “The MPLM carries up to 16 large containers of supplies such as food, clothing, spare parts and research equipment to the ISS.”

Raffaello being delivered to the International Space Station on the Space Shuttle’s final flight. Credit: NASA.

The shuttle landed at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility on Thursday July 21, 2011. 

According to a recent CBS news article, William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations at NASA says,  “The shuttle program isn't ending because we've lost our mojo. It's because the next missions require different designs to go into deeper space, like the Orion capsule that NASA just unveiled.”

This is NASA’s last human launch for awhile, but it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any space travel anytime soon. According to NASA, they have lots of missions, including GRAIL, continued support of the International Space Station, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), and NuSTAR.

GRAIL, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, is the next mission, scheduled to launch on September 8, 2011, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. During the GRAIL mission two unmanned spacecrafts will orbit the moonusing a formation-flying technique that will map the moon's gravity field. “The result should be the most accurate gravity map of the moon ever made.” according to NASA.gov.

MAVEN and NuStar are nonhuman missions that plan to launch in the future also. According to Nasa.gov, MAVEN is a satellite that will address key scientific questions about the evolution of Mars. NuStar will be the first hard X-ray telescope to orbit the earth. 

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