Fragile Oasis

Connecting Space and Earth: Learn. Act. Make a Difference.

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Turning the Page to the Next Chapter of Human Spaceflight - Part 2

Welcome to Part II of this behind the scenes look at the historic mission of STS-135.

The main objective of the mission was to help ensure the continued operation and utilization of the International Space Station through at least the end of the decade. To accomplish this, Mike Fossum and I teamed up for our fourth spacewalk together, key station maintenance was performed, and 9,400 pounds of cargo was transferred from Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station, and nearly 6,000 pounds of cargo was transferred back in a logistical ballet coordinated by loadmaster Sandy Magnus.

The space shuttle has supplied the International Space Station with 9,006 items during its first decade. Sandy Magnus kept track of many of them. (STS-112, Expedition 18 and STS-135)

Cargo transfer was a huge part of this mission. When the transfer was complete, Mission Control in Houston added an additional item to the transfer list, item number 9006 - Sandy Magnus, herself. Since Sandy is a former ISS crewmember, Mission Control joked that they wanted to make sure she got on the right side of the hatch when the mission was complete.

In addition to bringing up new equipment and spare parts, it was also important to bring equipment that had failed back to Earth. A complete understanding of how and why equipment fails in space is critical to ensuring the continued operation of the ISS and to design the next generation of spacecraft. To that end, considerable time was spent during the mission removing failed equipment for return to Earth on Atlantis.

This was a very challenging mission, but we did find time to have some fun. During the course of the eight days that Atlantis was docked to the ISS, we partook in several traditions including placing the STS-135 mission decal on a panel in the Unity Module, and placing the STS-135 and Expedition 28 decal in the air lock to recognize the joint space shuttle-space station aspect of the mission’s spacewalk.

STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson "autographs" the mission decal. Expedition 28 is to the left.

The joint ISS-Atlantis crews also shared three meals together; one meal in the US Unity Module, one in the Russian Service Module, and one aboard Atlantis. It was a very rewarding experience to break bread with our friends and talk about the mission and share our perspectives on the historic significance of this last space shuttle flight.

Table for 10, your reservation is ready.

The end of the Space Shuttle program is a bittersweet moment in time. In its wake, a magnificent legacy, and hopefully the beginning of an era that will see humanity explore space beyond Earth orbit.

Next: Part III - Farewells