The launch at 11:29:04 a.m. EDT (1529 GMT) marked the start of the 135th shuttle mission, the beginning of the end of NASA's three decade space transportation system (STS) program, and the closing chapter of an era in space exploration history.
Space shuttle Atlantis makes the last launch of the shuttle program. Credit: collectSPACE
Each day that the final space shuttle mission is in flight, collectSPACE plans to highlight milestones and events from the space shuttle's history that also occurred on the same day over the past three decades. "Today in Space Shuttle History" will also note "lasts" being set by the STS-135 mission.
STS-135 Flight Day 1, July 8
1977 The second space shuttle main engine (SSME) to be built is shipped to the National Space Technology Laboratory (NSTL, now known as Stennis Space Center) in Mississippi to be mated to the Main Propulsion Test Article, a testbed for the propulsion and fuel delivery systems for the space shuttle.
1994 Space shuttle Columbia launches the STS-65 mission with the International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-2), the second in a series of Spacelab flights designed to conduct research in a microgravity environment. The crew included the first Japanese woman in space, Chiaki Mukai.
2006 Piers Sellers and Mike Fossum perform the first spacewalk of shuttle Discovery's STS-121 mission. During their seven hours and 31 minutes working outside the International Space Station (ISS), the spacewalkers evaluated using the 50-foot orbiter boom sensor system as a work platform in case repairs are needed to a shuttle.
2011 Space shuttle Atlantis launches on the final mission of the space shuttle program, STS-135.
July 8: Columbia launches STS-65 in 1994 (left); Atlantis launches STS-135 in 2011. Credit: NASA
The White House released this statement by the President of the United States on the launch of space shuttle Atlantis.
Today, Americans across the country watched with pride as four of our fellow citizens blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and America reached for the heavens once more.
Behind Atlantis and her crew of brave astronauts stand thousands of dedicated workers who have poured their hearts and souls into America's Space Shuttle program over the past three decades. To them and all of NASA's incredible workforce, I want to express my sincere gratitude. You helped our country lead the space age, and you continue to inspire us each day.
Today's launch may mark the final flight of the Space Shuttle, but it propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space. We'll drive new advances in science and technology. We'll enhance knowledge, education, innovation, and economic growth. And I have tasked the men and women of NASA with an ambitious new mission: to break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars. I know they are up to the challenge — and I plan to be around to see it.
Congratulations to Atlantis, her astronauts, and the people of America's space program on a picture-perfect launch, and good luck on the rest of your mission to the International Space Station, and for a safe return home. I know the American people share my pride at what we have accomplished as a nation, and my excitement about the next chapter of our preeminence in space.
After helping the STS-135 crew into their seats and closing the hatch on Atlantis, but before leaving the White Room on Launch Pad 39A for what may be the final time, each member of the space shuttle closeout crew held up signs bearing the following message:
Thank you America! On behalf of all who have designed and built... serviced and loaded, launched and controlled... operated and flown these magnificent space vehicles. Thank you for 30 years with our nation's space shuttles! Godspeed Atlantis! God bless America!
Having rode space shuttle Atlantis as a rocket to orbit, the STS-135 crew set to work configuring their ride to serve as a spacecraft.
Commander Chris Ferguson and his three crewmates set up their ship for on-orbit operations, opening Atlantis' payload bay doors and downlinking video and digital still imagery of the shuttle program's last external tank that held the half million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for Atlantis' 8.5-minute ride to space.
The astronauts then unberthed Atlantis' robotic arm and conducted a brief survey of the payload bay and its cargo, the Raffaello logistics module.
The crew's launch day ended with their newly-configured spacecraft flying towards a Flight Day 3 rendezvous with the International Space Station.