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Space Shuttle Launches for the Final Time

Atlantis heads into orbit for 12 day mission

Washington, DC
Friday, July 8, 2011

For the 135th and final time, a space shuttle has blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

Officials say anywhere from 500,000 to one million spectators crowded the Florida coast to watch the launch of Atlantis

Atlantis' mission is scheduled to last 12 days, and its primary purpose is to deliver a module containing 8,640 pounds of supplies and spare parts for the international space station.

There is one six and a half hour space walk planned, by space station engineers - they will investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and place a failed ammonia pump module in the shuttle's cargo bay for at return trip.  If all goes as planned, Atlantis would land back at the Kennedy Space Center early in the morning on July 20th.

Atlantis is carrying a four-person crew instead of the regular seven-member team, because there is no back-up shuttle available in the event they need to be rescued from a damaged or disabled spacecraft.  Astronauts would have to be ferried back to Earth on the smaller Russian Soyuz capsule.

With the shuttle program ending and no immediate plans for another human space flight program, there is rising unemployment in the area around the Kennedy Space Center.  Reuters estimates the shuttle workforce hit a high of about 18,000 in the early 1990s, but will dwindle to only about 1,000 workers on the shuttle program payroll by the end of August 2011.


Updated: Monday, July 11, 2011 at 1:30pm (ET)

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