I have discovered how to embed video in my blog, and so like any right thinking geek with a new toy, I am using it immediately to excess. There are many YouTube videos that relate to the last shuttle mission and what I am attempting in this post is to provide some highlights of the mission. This is very cool, because with my schedule and general disinterest in television, I very rarely get to see any launch or operational footage of a space shuttle mission, so this compendium probably represents the most video that I have seen of any flight with the exceptions of STS 107 and STS 51L.
The rollout of shuttle Atlantis to Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center took place on May 15, after repairs to the hail damage to the External Tank back in February. This damage had delayed the launch from the original date of March 15.
NASA's weekly video summary for the first full week in June when the launch countdown for Atlantis was in progress is very optimistic about launching on time. They were justified -- STS 117 launches very close to the target launch time.
The following video shows astronaut preparations, launch, and on-orbit activity on June 8.
Because of the hail damage to the External Tank, and because of the role that insulation from the External Tank played in the loss of shuttle Columbia on flight STS 107, a lot of attention was focussed on the condition of the tank after separation.
This video is a repeat of the launch, showing the perspective from cameras mounted on the port and starboard sides of the tank, monitoring the shuttle's wings for impacts from foam insulation. The final part shows the rendezvous with the ISS, and shows from a camera viewpoint on the ISS, the shuttle doing the back flip maneuver first performed by Eileen Collins on mission STS 114. This full rotation allows the ISS crew to do a visual inspection of all sides of the shuttle to check for damage.
This video provides another view of Atlantis approaching the space station.
Atlantis docked with the ISS on June 10. This video shows the actual docking.
The Atlantis astronauts performed a series of spacewalks to install new solar panel components for the ISS. This video is an interview with a NASA official regarding the last space walk.
One issue which was discovered during the damage inspection early in the flight was that a thermal blanket, a heat shield component, had come loose on one of the OMS pods. The OMS pods are the housings for the Orbital Maneuvering System -- fuel tanks and rocket engines for thrusters which allow the shuttle to do course corrections and perform maneuvers while in orbital flight. A final spacewalk was done to repair the thermal blanket. One of the astronauts used a medical stapler to refasten the blanket.
Undocking of Atlantis from the ISS took place on June 19. Atlantis left without Clayton Anderson, who remained behind as the newest member of ISS Expedition 15. However, Sunita Williams joined the Atlantis crew for the return to Earth.
Due to bad weather in Florida, the June 21 landing opportunities were missed. On June 22, the facilities of Edwards Air Force Base in California were made available in addition to the facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Due to continuing bad weather in Florida, Atlantis concluded the STS 117 mission by landing at Edwards on June 22. Had Atlantis not been able to return on the 22nd, then additional landing facilities at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico would have been activated on the 23rd.