The day after the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-134 to the International Space station saw the first process in the preparation for the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the final Space Shuttle flight. This launch will be identified with a lot of historic ‘lasts’ as there will never be another Space Shuttle launch when Atlantis returns. This fact is slowly sinking into the Space community as we remember the tremendous success of the Space Shuttle program and look forward to reaching out beyond Earth’s orbit to explore space once again.
Atlantis had been encased in the Orbiter Processing Bay 1 (OPF1) since its return from the ISS back in May 2010. It was being prepared for a ‘Launch On Need’ mission to recover the Endeavour crew in the event of a serious issue with that orbiter. Its status was changed to an active mission in Feb 2011 and on May 17th the day after the launch of Endeavour it was transferred to the Vechicle Assembly Building (VAB) in a process known as Rollover.
Picture gallery of the last Atlantis Rollover follows:
The Rollover from OPF1 to VAB took place in the early morning. In the blazing Floridian sunshine Atlantis backed out of the OPF on it’s specially built transporter then headed down the quarter mile roadway towards the VAB. As the orbiter headed down the road it was preceded by the Atlantis STS-135 mission banner. This banner was carted not only by the workers, but also by the astronauts flying the mission.
Halfway down the road the astronauts grouped together for a series of photo ops with Atlantis in the background. Some of the workers and friends of the astronauts were spotted and Sandy Magnus came over and hugged some friends right next to us.
Just outside the VAB the whole procession was halted for a few hours to allow workers from the Space Shuttle Program to come and see the Orbiter on its last flight. It was an strangely emotional experience. The workers were proudly waving goodbye to Atlantis, but at the same time there was more than one tearful eye as the realisation hit that after 30 years this was to be the last ever rollover and Space Shuttle flight.
In the early hours of the afternoon Atlantis started moving again towards it’s destination in the vast void of the VAB. Getting into the VAB was a bit of a challenge as there is only a few inches (well quite a few, but not much) clearance for both the wing tips and the tail fin.
Once safely inside the VAB, the banner carriers posed for more pictures, with both the Atlantis STS-135 banner and a patchwork quilt of all the shuttle missions. In the meantime work had already begun on affixing the lifting rig to Atlantis for the next phase in the preparations for flight: the ‘Lift and Mate‘.