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Pat Patton Interviews
STS-135 -Space Shuttle’s Final Flight and the Future of NASA
by Pat Patton
Friday, August 05, 2011

From the lift off of Space Shuttle Atlantis from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 11:29 a.m. EDT on July 8, 2011, to the landing on Runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility at 9:57 a.m. EDT on Thursday, July 21, 2011, the world watched as the STS-135 astronauts flawless, perfectly executed mission provided a story book ending to the final Space Shuttle Flight of NASA's Space Shuttle Program.  NASA’s final flight on Space Shuttle Atlantis ended its own 33-flight career and closed out the 30-year, 135-flight Space Shuttle Program. 

The STS-135 crew members were Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim. 

STS-135 was Ferguson's third shuttle flight and his second as commander.  He previously flew on STS-115 Atlantis, from September 9 to September 21, 2006, and STS-126 Endeavour, from November 14 to November 30, 2008.  STS-135 was Hurley’s second spaceflight as pilot.  He previously flew on STS-127 Endeavour, from July 15 to July 31, 2009.  

STS-135 was Magnus’s fourth shuttle flight.  She previously flew on STS-112, Space Shuttle Atlantis, from October 7 to October 18, 2002.  Magnus served as Flight Engineer on board the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 18.  She was a Mission Specialist on STS-126 Space Shuttle Endeavour for the trip to the station, which launched on November 14, 2008, and served as Mission Specialist on STS-119, on Space Shuttle Discovery, when it returned on March 28, 2009.

STS-135 was Walheim's third shuttle flight.  He was a Mission Specialist on STS-110, Space Shuttle Atlantis, from April 8 to19, 2002, and conducted two spacewalks.  Walheim was Mission Specialist and flight engineer on STS-122, Space Shuttle Atlantis, from February 7 to 20, 2008, where he conducted three spacewalks,

Space Shuttle Atlantis carried the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station. The mission also flew a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and returned a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.

The International Space Station Expedition 28 crew is Commander Cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko, and Flight Engineers Cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev, NASA Astronaut Ron Garan, Cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, NASA Astronaut Mike Fossum, and JAXA Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa.

NASA/Johnson Space Center director Mike Coats said of the Space Shuttle Program’s final flight, “For 30 years we have flown one of the most magnificent flying machines ever built – the Space Shuttle.  Many people at the Johnson Space Center and across the country have dedicated their lives to this endeavor.  Although we will end this program with the last flight of Atlantis, we will start new ones that will take us beyond low earth orbit to explore deep space.”

I asked three of NASA’s strongest advocates for their quotes on the Space Shuttle Program’s final flight, STS-135.

United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who played a strong leadership role in passing the legislation for the funding of STS-135, said, “The final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission is a bittersweet moment.  It marks the beginning of the end of the Space Shuttle Program, which has been the proud symbol of American human spaceflight leadership and accomplishment for the past 30 years.  It should also be a proud moment for the hardworking men and women of NASA who have done so much over the past 30 years to inspire and provide the ultimate example of what America is capable of accomplishing.”

Congressman Pete Olson said, "Congratulations to ATLANTIS, Commander Chris Ferguson and the STS-135 crew for a successful final mission.  As we say goodbye to the shuttle program, we must recognize the men and women who dedicated their lives to ensuring that America remains a global leader in technology and space exploration.  To the astronaut corps, Mission Control and everyone who contributed to this program - America thanks you.  We will need your expertise and skills to take us to the next level of human space exploration.  This chapter is by no means the end of human space flight; it is the beginning of the next generation of scientists, engineers and unforeseen discoveries.  I am dedicated to ensuring that Congress gives NASA the goal and resources to usher in the next generation of human space flight."

Bob Mitchell – President of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership said, “This is a bittersweet time for all of us.  For 30 years, the Space Shuttle Program benefited the American public through new innovations and technological advancement.  It provided the platform from which America maintained the world’s leadership in space.  The transition from the Shuttle Program to the next generation launch vehicle requires leadership.  It is time for those at NASA headquarters to stop stonewalling the next generation heavy launch vehicle and to provide the vision and leadership necessary for its future and the future of human space exploration.” 

The Space Shuttle Program’s 30 years of achievements, accomplishments, and success changed the world, and enhanced our lives.  We all benefit every day from NASA’s technology and spin-offs that have improved, enriched, and transformed our lives.

The end of the Space Shuttle Program does not mean the end of NASA or even of NASA sending humans into space.  NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come.  Here is what's next for NASA:

The International Space Station:  The International Space Station will be the center piece of NASA/Johnson Space human spaceflight activities.  Six-member crews have been, and will continue, to live and work in space 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until at least 2020. 

Commercial Cargo:  The two companies that are part of the commercial cargo demonstration program, SpaceX and Orbital, are planning demonstration flights later this year, followed by a commercial resupply flight to the International Space Station.  This will be a major step toward ensuring the future life of the space station.

Commercial Crew:  Four partner companies have recently been selected as part of the commercial crew development program’s effort to advance commercial concepts and mature designs for crew transport:  SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada.  JSC is providing people to support the program office and now partner with integration team members who will work closely with each of the 4 companies.

Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle - MPCV:  JSC is home to the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.  JSC is leading the design and development of a new NASA vehicle, the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), which will enable human deep space exploration.  Development of the MPCV is well underway, hardware is being built and testing has been ongoing for several years.  The new vehicle will carry four people for up to 21 days and be able to reenter Earth’s atmosphere at the speeds necessary to return from deep space.  The MPCV will have the flexibility to facilitate voyages to many deep space destinations, whether it is an asteroid, the moon or Mars.

This article is very personal to me because of my love and admiration for NASA.  From the time I saw Neil Armstrong step on the moon and say, "This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”, during the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, I was enthralled with NASA. 

I feel it has been a real honor and a privilege for me to meet and know many astronauts over the last 15 years, and participate in some very special NASA events.  We are so fortunate to live in our community where we have a chance to meet so many of the men and women who have shaped the history of NASA.  On March 11, 2004, I was Neil Armstrong’s media contact for the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Banquet which was a very memorable experience for me.

Along with both international and local journalists, I attended two of NASA’s Final Shuttle Mission Preview Events on June 16, STS135PreviewEventPattonGuidry6162011 and June 30, 2011 - STS-135NASAMissionOverviewsPattonGuidry6302011.  I had the opportunity to meet the STS-135 crew and participate in question and answer sessions with the crew in both Mission Control and in Teague Auditorium.  I attended the final shuttle crew return ceremony at Ellington Airport on July 22, 2011 which was a heartfelt experience - STS135CREWRETURNFINALMISSIONPATTONGUIDRY7222011.

I have also had the opportunity to interview Mike Coats, the director of the NASA/Johnson Space Center, and former astronaut of STS-41-D in 1984, STS-29 in 1989, and STS-39 in 1991 - PatPattonMikeCoatsInterview and Astronaut Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, STS 61-A in 1985, STS-32 in 1990, and STS-71 in 1995, STS-50 in 1992, and STS-89 in 1998 - PatPattonAstronautBonnieDunbar for  I wrote four articles celebrating NASA's 50th Year Anniversary for the Bay Area Houston Magazine, which are now placed on - Patton50thNASAarticles or Pat Patton's Interviews.

I am looking forward to the next chapter of NASA’s achievements and accomplishments and the exciting discoveries that will unfold to inspire us and benefit our lives.  Thomas Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past”. 

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