You really know things are upside down when the coverage for our space program is more important on foreign web pages than it is here. That is the way it appears to be with the final voyage (as currently planned) of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which will be making its final journey this afternoon.

It still amazes me that we can have network break-ins to the television programming for stupid things like a screw up on Wall Street that righted itself almost as quickly as it happened, but we no longer cover the trips that our astronauts make into space. The brave adventurers are lucky to get a 30 second blurb in the nightly news, and we certainly don’t know all the astronauts names in the way that almost all school children could name the original astronauts of the Mercury and Gemini programs.

But the news is apparently worthy of coverage in the U.K., as the BBC website has all the details of today’s launch, and the major points of the mission that will be undertaken.

The US space shuttle Atlantis is about to undertake what is expected to be its final mission before retirement.

The vehicle is on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center ready to lift off at 1420 local time (1820 GMT).

Big crowds are anticipated on the roads leading to the NASA facility and on the beaches of Florida’s Space Coast, all eager to catch a piece of history.

Atlantis will be delivering a Russian module to the space station, as well as batteries and a communications antenna.

The crew of six say they are very aware of the significance of the moment but are concentrating on the job they have before them.

"In a lot of ways you can’t afford to get too distracted," said Ken Ham, who will command Atlantis.

"This is the kind of thing that’s going to hit all of us after the mission, when we realise what part in history we played. I think the space shuttle is the single most incredible machine humanity has ever built."

US President Barack Obama has announced a new exploration policy that would take humans beyond the International Space Station (ISS), beyond even the Moon, to asteroids and to Mars.

The shuttles, which have been working in space since 1981, are being retired to museums; and NASA is being asked to pass the role of taxiing astronauts to and from the ISS to private companies and to concentrate its efforts on developing the vehicles to reach more distant targets.

Three more shuttle sorties remain, including Atlantis’s mission.

The Discovery orbiter is aiming for a final flight in September, with the Endeavour ship scheduled currently to conclude the shuttle programme in November.

Friday’s lift-off will be the 32nd for Atlantis. Notable achievements in its 25-year career have included launching interplanetary probes from orbit and leading the Shuttle-Mir programme which saw the ship visit the Russian Mir space station more times than any other ship in the fleet.

 

Following the link above will give the reader lots more information, as well as a great picture of the crew for the mission, which, this time around is only six.

When I look at the claims of how private firms will take over in the business of delivering payloads into space, I can’t help but be a little disgusted and wonder, in a somewhat snarky manner if we will suddenly see ads for Yellow Cab Orbiters. The idea that any companies not governmentally affiliated at this point in time will suddenly jump in to take over the process seems more than a bit silly, and I wonder why this has not gotten more than the small bit of criticism that has been put forth by former astronauts and other members of the aerospace community.

Nonetheless, here’s to a great flight, and hoping that someone comes to their senses before the final Shuttle is partially dismantled to enable its inclusion through the entrance of a museum.

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