Space Transportation System (STS-1 / STS-135)

Atlantis waits patiently. Image: NASA

I’m posting two little audio pieces to mark the end of NASAs space shuttle program which will (with any luck) enter its final mission today with the launch of Atlantis (STS-135) in a few hours.

The first was produced for the latest Imperial College I,Science podcast and features science writer and producer Piers Bizony speaking on the history of the space shuttle program at a Super/Collider event in May.

The Second is a short piece extracted from the first, imagining what it might sound like to be inside the shuttle during take-off. The radio chatter you hear comes from Columbia (STS-1), the very first shuttle launch which blasted off over 30 years ago on 12th April 1981. The eventual winding down towards the end symbolises the ending of the project’s 30 year run.

The BBC has produced an excellent interactive history of the space shuttle program here and a friend from my course has also written an excellent article on the future of manned spaced flight here

Portrait of a legacy

I mentioned in a previous post that no space shuttle has ever been fully photographed whilst docked with the International Space Station. However NASA has released today landmark portraits of Endeavour and the ISS taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli on the 23rd of May whilst returning to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

We'll never be together again: Endeavour docked with the ISS. Image: NASA

This image was made possible by rotating the returning space craft 130 degrees so that Nespoli could take photos and video footage at a distance of about 600m from the ISS. It’s amazing to see the relative size of the space shuttle in comparison to the space station and I must admit, I didn’t realise how big it was! This photo I’m sure will come to represent the lasting legacy of NASAs space shuttle programme and will no doubt be one the most remembered space images of recent times.

You can view more of the images here and additional video footage will be released once it has been processed by NASA.

I’d also recommend having a look at some of Nespoli’s other photos on his flickr account, which hosts a beautiful and diverse collection of shots.

Endeavour: An Ending (Ascent)


Earlier today, the US Space Shuttle Endeavour launched successfully on its final mission – it is now currently en route to the International Space Station where it will be delivering the $2bn Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. It will also be carrying a bunch of baby squid.

After 30 years of the US Space Shuttle programme, the Americans will have to rely on the Russians to ferry their astronauts to and from the ISS. Atlantis will be the final shuttle to launch in the programme – expected sometime in July.

Interestingly NASA has never been able to obtain an ‘all inclusive’ photograph of the ISS docked with one of its shuttles. NASA had hoped that the Russians would perform a flyabout of the station in one of their Soyuz modules in order to obtain historical images of the station docked with Endeavour. However these plans were later rejected amidst safety concerns regarding the re-docking of the module to the station. Unfortunately for NASA, there will only be one more chance to document the shuttle’s legacy; after the next and final mission the US shuttles will be placed into retirement permanently – never to feel the cold emptiness of space again.

Here’s a webcast produced by NASA which sums up Endeavour’s legacy perfectly (if a little cheasily):

Super Collider also put on a charming retirement party for Endeavour tonight at the Bookclub in Shoreditch; speakers included photographer David Ryle and author Piers Bizony – I recorded the event and hope to be podcasting it soon – lets wish Endeavour and its crew a safe trip!