NASA this week marked the 10th anniversary of the final space shuttle launch, which took place on July 8, 2011.
The space agency on Thursday reposted a video of the launch of mission STS-135 from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space in Florida. Aboard the space shuttle Atlantis were NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim.
“Ten years ago, Atlantis rose from the launch pad on a plume of fire and parted the high clouds on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) and to its place in history,” NASA said in a message accompanying the video. “The 11:29 a.m. ET lift-off on July 8, 2011, marked the last time a space shuttle would climb from Kennedy’s seaside launch complex to soar toward the heavens.”
The mission lasted 12 days and 18 hours and involved the crew delivering supplies and equipment to the ISS.
The first space shuttle launch took place in 1981, with more than 350 astronauts from 16 countries flying aboard one of the five shuttles in 135 missions over the next 30 years. The spacecraft traveled more than 540 million miles during its time and carried some 2,000 experiments to space. It also played an important role in the construction of the ISS.
Despite its many successes, the space shuttle program also suffered several tragedies, with seven astronauts dying aboard Challenger when its external fuel tank exploded during launch in January 1986, and another seven astronauts losing their lives aboard Columbia when the spacecraft broke apart as it entered Earth’s atmosphere at the end of a mission in February 2003.
In the end, safety concerns and ballooning costs prompted the closure of the space shuttle program.
NASA had to wait almost a decade before it could launch astronauts from U.S. soil again, with private space transportation company SpaceX enabling domestic launches with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. The first astronauts to fly in the Crew Dragon were Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in a test mission last year.
“With a merging of technology and tears, the final chapter in the 30-year history of space shuttle flights has been written,” NASA said shortly after Atlantis returned home nearly 10 years ago. “For all who have worked to send these first-of-a-kind engineering marvels to space and return them to Earth, all who have flown aboard them, and all who have simply watched with awe and pride as they flew, space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-135 mission was an emotional end of an era.”