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'On 8th July, 2011, Atlantis left the earth for the last time.
'After 30 years and 135 missions,
'the space shuttle was making its final flight.
'I'm Kevin Fong and I used to work at NASA
'with the shuttle's medical research team.
'For the last month of this last mission,
'I was granted unprecedented access to the shuttle programme.'
It's a machine that's going to come alive very, very soon.
'I was with the astronauts as they went through
'their final weeks of training.'
-I'm glad I'm wearing this, not that.
-Yeah. It's a little warm.
I'm bracing myself against the seat in front,
dropping out of the sky like a stone here.
'And I found the unsung heroes
'who've worked on the shuttle since the beginning.'
After this is all gone, what's next for you?
To go look for another job.
'And I met the man in charge of it all during one of the most
'extraordinary and emotional months in NASA's history.'
Today, this being Atlantis' last flight, was really special for me.
Um...this was the first...first space shuttle I commanded.
Before this era finally passes into history,
I want to see what it takes to get this remarkable machine into orbit.
And along the way, I want to talk to the men and women
who've worked here at NASA as part of the shuttle programme
and understand what the last three decades has meant to them.
30 years ago, I was sitting in an assembly hall at school
watching the first shuttle launch off the colour television then.
Back then, I never imagined I'd get a chance to work here.
And having done that, it's just incredible to get the chance
to come back and see the last shuttle launch.
And the last 25 days of the last flight of the last space shuttle.
'I'm on my way to Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.
'Johnson is home to the astronauts and their training ground.
'And it's where I used to work.'
They seem to be expecting me.
'And I want to say hello to some friends in my old department,
'the shuttle medical research team.'
Guys! This is your doing?
Yeah. A little bit. How are you?
Good to see you. Good to see you.
-How are you?
-Fine. How are you doing?
-It's good to see you.
-It's good to see you. Got your flag.
-Is it strange with the shuttle finishing now?
-Oh, I know it's sad.
I hate to see that, but...
-You've been with the programme all along, haven't you?
-Yeah, I've been here 25 years.
-Weird to see it go, isn't it?
I know. Yeah. It is sad.
'Today, I've been invited to see the final shuttle crew
'and the mission control team being put through their paces.
'This is mission control,
'the nerve centre for shuttle flight operations.
'Commander Chris Ferguson is in charge of this final shuttle crew.
'They have a gruelling day of simulations ahead of them.
'It's a full dress rehearsal for their worst nightmares.
'This is a high-fidelity, full-motion simulation.
'Everything is replicated, down to the last detail.
'To the crew and mission control, it will feel like the real thing.'
What you're seeing there is this little cabin.
And on the inside, those black boxes are TVs facing into that cabin,
showing them exactly the view they're going to get during
all of these launch scenarios, all of the emergency-abort scenarios.
They have a pretty good idea from being in that what it's going
to be like if things go wrong on the day.
'Neither the mission controllers nor the crew know what the
'training team is going to serve up today.
'Navigating through those simulated emergencies
'is going to be quite a feat.'
-Roger, roll, Atlantis.
This is a room full of people, each of them
with a mission-critical task,
but the most important person down there at the moment
is the flight director, Richard Jones,
just sitting just off to the left there.
And it's his job to orchestrate all of this to keep that crew
and that vehicle safe.
'It's only seconds after launch and the crew are in trouble.
'They've lost an engine and there are problems with the cooling system.'
-What's going on?
-"It just went off."
-We've lost PDL.
-"We've got a leak."
-Leak on the right.
We do see the helium leak on the right. Go to work the procedure.
-And tell him he's still hot mike.
-And you're still hot mike, Chunky.
"You're still hot mike, chunky."
'The crew must decide whether to proceed or abort.'
"It's an upper system leak."
'The shuttle has past the point of no return.
'From here, they either continue to space
'or perform an emergency landing across the Atlantic.'
-Atlantis, negative return.
-Stay out open.
Stay out open, Chunky. It's a tank leak.
'One wrong decision here
'and this emergency could become a catastrophe.'
Press the ATO, you can select Istres.
Looks like the right will make it to 23K, Chunky.
'They can't make it to orbit, so decide to land is Istres, France.'
OK. DPS, we have a little bit more time.
'That transatlantic flight would take a jumbo jet nine hours,
'but shuttle would do it in just 35 minutes.'
All right, we're going to have to live with that hot mike on board.
And how many launches have you overseen in your time as flight director?
I've seen five before. This is going to be my sixth one.
What would you say to people who shrug and say,
"Well, it's been flying for 30 years, human space flight,
"mostly has become routine."
To what extent does it feel routine to you?
Putting humans on top of that explosion, in a way,
that is going on underneath it just to get it into orbit,
it's just amazing.
And it's not even close to being routine.
You must have sims where everything goes wrong and theoretically,
the crew and the vehicle are lost.
How seriously do you take those?
Those are really ugly.
There are scenarios sometimes that you just cannot win.
Sometimes you might have to do a bailout or it's a loss of control.
Those feel horrible when you have to go through them,
but there's so much to learn when you do go through them.
They're almost like pieces of gold.
'As the morning unfolds, the crew face launch after launch,
'each one featuring a new emergency.'
-We're going. Do we need all this capability?
They've chucked the kitchen sink at them.
During the launch simulations, they've had engine failures,
they've tried to get to orbit, couldn't get to orbit.
They've then had to fly across the Atlantic, look for a landing site in Europe.
And it's far from a foregone conclusion
that this simulation is going to work out all right.
-Atlantis, abort ATO.
-This is Chris Ferguson.
Hi. Sorry to jump you after a long day in front of...
'After four hours in the sim, I get to meet commander Chris Ferguson.
'He only found out in January this year that the mission
'he was preparing for would be the shuttle's last.'
So, 24 days now before you go.
Have you managed to believe
you're going to be commanding the last flight?
I haven't counted the 24 days, but it's that close, huh?
-It's that close.
-Yeah, they're clicking off pretty quickly now.
I think I speak on behalf of my crew, we're extraordinarily honoured
and we're going to make everyone in America very proud
of 30 years of successful space shuttle.
Of course, the last landing is going to be kind of, I guess historical.
We want to make sure we recognise the right people at the right time.
Have you imagined that moment, wheel stop?
It's going to be hard to capture 30 years of tremendous shuttle operation
in a sentence or two when it's all said and done.
We'll try to say something that's fitting.
Have you thought about what those words are going to be?
I have, but I can't let you know them now.
-Oh, go on.
-No, no, I can't.
'I'm in Florida, on my way to Cape Canaveral.
'If Houston is the home of the astronauts,
'then Florida's Kennedy Space Centre is where the rockets are kept.
'And it's where Atlantis will launch from in 20 days' time.
'Since it last flew in 2010,
'the spacecraft has undergone a complete refit.
'As this mission got closer,
'it was transferred to the giant vehicle-assembly building...
'..where it was attached to its vast external tank
'and twin solid rocket boosters.
'A week ago, this whole assembly was transferred to the launch pad,
'taking five hours to make the three-mile trip.
'And it's there that Atlantis will undergo all the final system checks
'that will make it ready for launch.
'Normally, it's impossible to get up close to a shuttle on the launch pad.
'But today, an astronaut friend from my NASA days is visiting Atlantis.'
That's a much better way to come to Florida.
'Dan Tani has a vital role on the ground for this mission.
'He's part of the CAPCOM team.
'He'll be in mission control,
'providing the vital communications link with the astronauts in space.'
'Dan has launched on two shuttle missions.
'He knows this journey well.
'For this final flight, NASA has chosen Pad 39A,
'the same launch pad that sent Armstrong and his crew
'to the moon in 1969.'
So on launch morning, you get out of the Astrovan and, er...
you know, you stand here and you think
it's unbelievable that humans could
put something so complicated together.
And what an incredible privilege it is, not only to stand there,
but hopefully in about four or five hours,
we're going to be circling the earth at 17,000 miles an hour.
It's really awesome.
You look up at the vehicle and steam is coming from it.
There's some creaking. There are motors that you hadn't heard before.
You feel like it's a beast that is awakening.
And you get this awareness that it's a machine
that's going to come alive very, very soon.
'At the base of the launch platform,
'a shuttle sleeping in its protective metal cocoon.
-This is the tail...?
-The tail, yeah.
-The rudder shuttle.
Yeah. Here's the rudder and the tail structure.
Those tiles, they're close enough to touch, but you don't touch them.
Oh, no, you don't touch anything out here.
We don't touch a flight part unless it's a requirement.
'For a successful shuttle launch, millions of things have to go right.
'If they don't, the result could be catastrophic.'
What you can see here, these stainless-steel things,
there are four of them on each SRB, so there's eight altogether.
These are the hold-down bolts that hold the entire stack,
4.5 million pounds of space shuttle
and booster to the launch platform on these four points.
What's interesting is at the moment of launch...
..the moment the SRBs are ignited,
there are pyrotechnics on the bolts and they're blown apart...
..to release the space shuttle from the launch platform.
"Liftoff. 30 minutes..."
And that's just another component that has to work.
Has to work 100%. If one of those bolts were to fail,
it would be a catastrophic failure.
You cannot turn off this booster.
So it's a must-work function.
-It's probably the first and last time
I'll be catching a lift to a space shuttle while it's in the launch.
'This is the astronauts' lift
'and I'm going up 195 feet to the level of the flight deck.'
-This is it.
-Welcome to 195.
'It's where every shuttle crew has entered their vehicle on launch day
'and it's a highly-restricted area.'
This is it. Once you're ready, and you have to be ready,
they'll wave you in and you'll make the walk out.
That's to the white room.
You get ready and then you climb in from the white room,
through the hatch into the shuttle, get strapped in.
Here's a piece of technology that passed us by
for the first couple of times we were up here,
but then somebody clued us in.
They go, "That phone up on the 195 works. It's a functional phone."
And, er...so what we started getting smart and doing is
on launch morning, bringing a couple of phone numbers
with you and you call your wife,
"Hey, just about to get on the space shuttle.
"I'll see you in a couple of weeks." Or I called my mom.
-Did you really do that?
Hey, I had 20 minutes before I got strapped in.
It is just beautiful up here.
And 200 feet in the air off the coast, you know,
some sunshine, breeze in your hair.
And you're parked next to a hydrogen bomb.
And if you're the crew,
you're just about to get into a machine for the next few days,
if not few months, and leave the earth at 17,000 miles an hour.
'The astronauts are about to move to the next phase of their training.
'And it's time for some real flying.
'The two hardest feats in all of rocket science
'are starting and stopping.
'Commander Chris Ferguson and Atlantis pilot Doug Hurley
'are about to practise landings in a specially-adapted jet
'that behaves exactly like a returning shuttle.
'And they've invited me along for the ride.'
-Are you looking forward to this?
-Yeah, these are fun.
We don't do a tonne of suited ones, but we do a fair amount.
-We do a lot of simulators.
-I'm glad I'm wearing this, not that.
-Yeah, it's a little warm.
-It's pretty warm.
'The shuttle returns to earth unpowered and falls from the sky
'at an angle seven times steeper than a commercial jet.'
Our shuttle trainer, which is a modified Gulfstream II business jet,
it has the exact same flying qualities as a space shuttle.
Of course, in order to get the flying qualities of a space shuttle,
you need to employ drastic techniques.
You need to deploy the landing gear at 30,000 feet
and the engines that are actually working
to push the shuttle training aeroplane backwards,
it's a tremendous rate of descent.
I still remember my first experience.
It was 30,000 feet, I looked down at the runway,
it was a tiny little strip right under my left arm and I said,
"There is no way we are going to possibly land on that thing."
And he's says, "OK. You ready? I'm going to show you."
And it's amazing. You come downhill really fast, but it works.
And the space shuttle's the same way.
So I'm about to get on this aircraft.
Chris Ferguson, commander of SCS 135,
is going to take it up to 20,000-odd feet,
put those engines into reverse...
..stick it in a 20-degree down dive,
get about 10 feet off the runway, as far as I can tell,
pull up, go around, do that 10 times.
It's going to be interesting.
'The shuttle is designed so it can be steered
'at hypersonic speeds in the upper atmosphere.
'But as it gets close to home, below the speed of sound,
'its short wings mean that it sinks like a stone.'
So we're on the climb on the way up to the first of those approaches.
We're getting ourselves up to something like 20,000 feet now,
getting ready to put ourselves at that very steep dive
with the engines in reverse.
'Chris Ferguson's side of the cockpit
'is identical to the flight deck of Atlantis.'
There you go. That noise...
is the engines of this aircraft going into reverse.
'We're experiencing the deadweight and powerlessness of the shuttle.'
Looking out of the window now, I am looking straight down at the ground.
'We're falling at 28,000 feet per minute.'
All the way down. Bracing myself against the seat in front.
It feels like you're falling out of the sky now.
'And just a few feet from the ground,
'we pull up and soar back into the sky.'
That's just amazing! It's just amazing!
We'll have come down 16,000 feet
by the time we're lined up with the runway.
You really do feel like this thing's pointed right at the ground.
Dropping out of the sky like a stone here.
'A mission commander has to complete at least a thousand of these
'practise runs before they fly the real shuttle.
'Chris Ferguson has completed one thousand.'
Off we go again. It's just incredible! It's just amazing!
That is the craziest thing I think I've...ever done.
That was an hour and a half of going 28,000 to zero.
28,000 to zero, 28,000 to zero.
Um...it was just incredible.
Just incredible. And the thing just drops out of the sky like a rock.
And you're being flown by the guy
who's about to command the last space shuttle.
During its mission, there are many phases
when the shuttle is under extreme stress.
The fierce heat of re-entry is more than enough
to destroy an unprotected vehicle.
On 1 February 2003, space shuttle Columbia was due to
return from a 16-day mission.
-'This is Columbia, Houston.
'We see your tyre pressure messages and we did not copy.'
-Is it instrumentation?
'Columbia, Houston - UHF com check.'
In the skies above Texas, Columbia broke up as she hit
the upper atmosphere.
Her insulating shield had been damaged on take-off
and she could not survive the heat of re-entry.
All seven crew members - lost.
Terry White has worked on the shuttle's thermal protection
system since the beginning.
'His last job is to make Atlantis ready for mission.
'With Atlantis on the launch pad, he showed me around another
'shuttle - Discovery - which flew her last mission in February 2011.'
What we see is extreme temperature about 3,000 degrees
Fahrenheit on re-entry.
So it's really important to have the thermal protection system
intact to make sure that the orbiter, its payload
and the astronauts, get home safe. Right.
Were you to take one of the tiles of the vehicle,
this is what it would look like.
That's a lot lighter than it looks like it should be.
That feels a bit more like a polystyrene block.
Yes, that's the closest thing it's similar to.
These are easily damaged. You can actually hear one
when I push my thumb into it, you can hear it crack.
The coating is about the thickness of an eggshell.
This is one of the new tiles. This one's so strong
you can actually bang it on the end of the table.
And these were developed after...
They were developed before the Columbia incident, but we started
using them after the Columbia incident.
That was a way to make the vehicles even safer.
So if you want a new tile, just one tile on the vehicle,
end-to-end, start to finish, how long would that take?
It takes ten days to two weeks,
-depending on where it's at...
-How long would it take to put 24,000 on?
-A couple of years!
And they're about to send this to the museum.
After this has all gone, after these processing facilities
are empty, what's next for you?
To go look for another job!
I've been doing this for 33 years, but I'm not quite ready to
retire, so I'll go look for something else to do.
The last three decades have seen an extraordinary
team of specialists like Terry come together,
each an authority in their own field, each one dedicated to
a particular system needed to make the shuttle what it is.
And with no new craft fully developed to take manned
space flight to the next level,
this unique group of people will have to be broken up.
Today the astronauts have arrived in Florida for a dress rehearsal.
-Permission to go aboard.
-Permission to go aboard.
Have a great day, guys.
It's the first time they'll enter the shuttle on the pad.
-Come on in, boss!
-How are you doing?
-You look marvellous.
Waiting for them is another specialist team -
the Closeout Crew - who make sure
the astronauts are fully equipped and ready for launch.
These guys have obsessive attention to detail as a job requirement.
They must check every last aspect of the astronauts equipment,
powering their flight suits and strapping them in to the vehicle.
You are literally the last people on earth that the crew see
-before they go.
-We connect with them
when they come in there and we make it
a point to connect with them because we want to make them comfortable.
'We're there for them and to help them do their job.'
All right. I'm going in. She's going in. Look out!
Chick comin' aboard!
'We've got to know several over the years
and got to be real good friends with a lot of them. We want to do it.
But we're not going to get the shot, you know.
And we see them do it, we love it.
And we connect with all of them the best we can.
One of my biggest jobs that I'm going to have on launch day is
accounting for him, to make sure he's not in there
when I close the hatch!
Because he would go and fly on it, you know, as we all would.
That's my main job, my main check list.
All right, guys.
And then the last thing we do is we look at the Commander in the window
and he's usually laying there and he gives us the thumbs up, he or she.
And we like that part.
We get to wave to them and then we go down the elevator
and we go over here in this field and we wait.
We have to close and lock the hatch.
And this is the tool that you use to do that.
This is the key to the space shuttle.
This is the key to the space shuttle. This is called the locking T-tool.
And we turn it 450 degrees and then you lock it right there,
from the outside and you push these tabs and remove it.
-How many of these do you have?
Always good to have spare keys for the space shuttle, I should imagine.
-I just quite like this "remove before flight" label!
-You don't want to take off with the keys still in the door!
The launch is getting ever closer, so I am lucky to be able to grab
lunch with Rex Walheim, another member of the Atlantis crew.
I want to know how being an astronaut affects those
closest to them.
It's really tough on the family. How does your family cope?
My kids since they can remember, I've been an astronaut
so they've always know it's part of my job and the first time I told
them... I didn't tell them for a few days I'm going on the shuttle,
you know and I'll be gone a couple of weeks.
I kind of told them in their rooms and they were three and five
at the time. And they're kind of, OK. Everybody does that(!)
So, it wasn't a real big deal for them. It's kind of a vague memory
now, but they kind of know this is what dad does.
Who finds it hardest out of everyone on launch day?
On launch day, the spouses. Definitely the spouses.
It is hard on them, especially my wife. It's hardest on them,
they understand what we're going through and they have no
sense of control over it like we do when we're in the cockpit.
-Did you know her when you got selected?
When I was first dating her I told her
I was applying to be an astronaut and being the type who tends to
worry a little more than others,
it was really kind of funny that she ended up married to someone
-who's an astronaut, so...
-Will she be glad when you stop flying?
Yes. I think when I'm done doing the flying in space stuff
she'll be very happy about that!
In less than a week the astronauts will
arrive in Florida for the final time.
They'll go into quarantine in dedicated, if somewhat spartan
crew quarters, where every astronaut
since Apollo has spent their last days on earth.
'Cameras are rarely allowed here but before the crew of Atlantis
'arrive, my friend Dan gives me a guided tour.'
This is really our home away from home down here. It's awesome.
When you come down flight T38 in,
the crew will, you make the drive over here and just make this walk
and once you get in the elevator,
you think it's unbelievable... the real thing.
'Dan introduces me to Gloria and Dolores,
'two of the most important people to the astronauts in isolation.'
All right. So, first of all these are the folks that keep us happy
down here and you want happy crew. Because they provide the food.
One of the things we do in the kitchen is to try to make
everything as home-made as we possibly can and everything
that we feed them and put on weight, they lose up in space!
We try to!
One of the things I didn't know about a week before launch,
there's a sheet came around and said what kind of sandwich do you want?
You know, on orbit. And I thought, a sandwich? What? And... I don't know.
Ham and cheese, I guess.
And so the morning of the lunch, these folks make
sandwiches for the crew, pack 'em away in a bag and they're on
the shuttle with us, under the seat, tied to the seat,
so that it doesn't float away.
And then as soon as you get into orbit, take off your suit,
you can have a sandwich. And I didn't know that so...
-Yours was ham and cheese.
-Ham and cheese!
The biggest majority of them, peanut butter and jello.
It's a sin to say that!
The quarters are set up especially for each new crew.
'I meet manager Judy Hooper in the astronaut common room.
'Judy has been here since the beginning looking after
'astronauts and their families in the run-up to launch.'
I've been here since STS One. I came on board in 1979.
And it was the most exciting thing that you could ever, ever imagine.
Everybody you run into, every engineer, every tech,
every astronaut, it didn't matter where they worked.
They would have done it for free. That's how cool it was.
I mean, you're working on the space shuttle.
What else could be better than that?
'I asked Judy about the toughest times she's faced here
'and she spoke about the first shuttle accident -
'Challenger in 1986.'
I was up on the LCC roof, watching the family through there. Um...
And I remember looking up and...
..somehow you know.
You know, you don't know the minute you realise it,
because I think you kind of go into shock.
Liftoff of the 25th Space Shuttle mission,
and it has cleared the tower.
Challenger exploded 73 seconds into flight in the skies above Florida.
Challenger, go at throttle-up.
Roger, go at throttle-up.
A fault in one of the solid rocket boosters
caused a catastrophic failure.
-RSO reports vehicle exploded.
All seven crew members,
including NASA's first civilian astronaut, were lost.
It's just so sad, because this was such a great crew, you know,
and to me, they're still great.
And I'm so glad that what they sacrificed could mean something,
because we learned from that, like everything else.
You're never ever going to make
human space exploration completely safe.
It's always going to be like this.
This is a memorial to all of the NASA astronauts who have died
either while training or on mission, and look at that monument.
There is plenty of space for more names. It will always be like this.
Exploration will always be risk, and without risk, there is no progress.
First Challenger and then the Columbia accident
cast long shadows over the programme
and caused NASA to search its soul.
They sought to learn from their mistakes
and make Shuttle ever safer.
With the flight of Atlantis days away,
I want to see one of the more recent weapons in that armoury.
-Kenny, this is your office here.
-This is it.
If you will, let's open this up and undo those snaps
and show the cameras.
'Kenny Allen is a specialist cameraman.
'On launch day, he'll be one of the closest human beings to Atlantis.'
This is our camera tracking mount.
'After Columbia, NASA invested 39 million in specialist digital images.
'The pictures taken reveal in minute detail any damage the shuttle experiences during launch.'
The whole system is top-notch.
You won't find anything better than this anywhere in the world right now.
There's no way.
I see a seat in the middle of this, so that's your throne for the day.
On launch day, I come out here and I sit in the seat and we hear
the countdown and it's getting exciting and everything's nerve-racking,
and as soon as the shuttle lifts off and the sound comes in,
and your clothes, everything, it starts pounding,
and you can see I'm in this little enclosed area
and the sound waves start coming in here
and it really feels like somebody's just punching on my chest.
Its neat. At liftoff, I'm concentrating right on the joystick,
and I look through the scope
and I track throughout the duration of the flight,
and then as it goes up, and I track down and I stop, it's like,
"Yes! All right! We did another one."
Then you go rush off to see what you did.
Immediately after launch,
Kenny's images can be analysed frame by frame.
This is where we record the video that's shot out there.
-This is Tim Terry.
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
The imagery's stunning, there's no doubt,
but it's not stunning just for stunning's sake.
There's groups of engineers looking at different parts
of the shuttle, just like I'm doing here, frame by frame, and they
all have their own little interest, their own little department, and
they all are looking at things in the minutest of detail, every launch.
If the shuttle's tiles were found to be severely damaged, NASA could
make a call whether to undertake repairs in space or offload
the crew to the International Space Station and abandon the shuttle.
You have all these cameras trained on this vehicle
because of a catastrophic accident.
Well, if you go back and look at the history,
135 Space Shuttle missions, we've had two mishaps.
On the Challenger, the only thing that found out what happened,
the only thing that identified what happened was photo.
The same thing with Columbia, when the foam hit the wing, it was seen.
But what we're here for at the end of the day is to say,
that shuttle's safe. It's not damaged in any way.
It's flying, we're going to bring those guys home.
With four days to go, the crew of Atlantis
arrive at Cape Canaveral on American Independence Day.
That's Chris and Sandy arriving in the jet on the right,
and Rex and Doug are on the jet on the left,
and they're in quarantine now,
which means that nobody except for front-line mission operations
personnel or close family are allowed within ten feet of them.
Good afternoon to everybody.
I think it's wonderful that you've all come out to join us,
when I know and I certainly hope that you will have an opportunity
to go home when this is all done and enjoy some barbecues,
some fireworks and some apple pie.
The crew now in quarantine, I wanted to find out what
goes through the mind of an astronaut
as they step away from the public gaze
and think of the mission they're about to embark upon.
So I went to meet with Dan Tani again,
and two astronaut friends he trained with.
Over the last decade, Dan has spent over four months in space.
Greg Chematov put the last bolt in the International Space Station,
and British-born Piers Sellers has clocked up
over 40 hours in space walks.
If we go through the arithmetic on it, this is amongst the most
risky jobs outside of the military during war there is.
I don't even like watching other people's launches.
If I'm back here, I never enjoy them. It just makes me nervous.
It's a dangerous business.
Anybody who tells you otherwise is lying,
and launch is probably about the most dangerous phase.
The more you know about the vehicle, the more you know about all
the very small margins, you know, there's a lot at risk.
So when you're watching, it is nerve-racking.
When you're in it, it's great, because you're going.
You have something to do. You have a job.
Explain that a bit to me, because you know what can happen,
you've seen what can happen,
and yet your launches, that's not in your mind.
They say when you climb Everest, you know the places where people
fell off and been killed, and for Shuttle, both my launches,
you listen for "go at throttle-up"
and you know that this is the moment that you lost Challenger,
and then when you're coming back home and you're coming through Mach 19,
you know this is when we lost Columbia,
so you have these, you pass these moments, and for me, there was
certainly relief past "go at throttle-up" and coming in past 19,
where you think, "Wow..." Not that that same thing's going to hit you,
but this was the moment, and I'm glad to be past it.
I never felt an active sense of jeopardy.
I guess it was there in the background,
but I never really paid attention to it,
and then coming down in the shuttle,
and it wasn't until I touched down,
and all of a sudden I felt this relief that must have been
collected for months, about, I'm really home,
I'm really going to be back, I'm really going to see my family again,
it's really over, I really got back down safely.
This is the question that everybody outside the fence is always
going to ask. 30 years of Shuttle, 135 flights. Why did you do it?
Why did WE do it?
It's raised our ability to do things in space from a very
rudimentary level to an extremely ambitious level. Now look what we do.
We have pretty much building sites up there with these gigantic arms
flying around doing things, so it's raised the level of technology
and engineering enormously over 30 years,
so that when we do get around to doing something further out,
we'll have a big repository of knowledge and experience to build on.
The world's news crews are gearing up for launch day.
The astronauts and the hardware are nearing their state of readiness.
But there's one thing that's still out of NASA's control.
So, worrying news, 48 hours to launch,
and I've just heard there's a 60% chance that the thing won't launch,
because of the weather conditions.
After all that engineering and all that technology,
it comes down to clouds and rain.
I'm just going to find out what's happening.
Kathy Winters is NASA's chief weather officer.
I wish I had better weather for the forecast,
but it is not looking favourable right now.
We're going to have some showers and potentially some
thunderstorms by launch time.
I'm Kevin from BBC. You have to understand, we're British
so we only ever talk about the weather, and you're the most
important weather woman in the world for me today, so I just wonder what
it's like to feel the pressure of getting this forecast right, Kathy.
I wouldn't call it pressure, I would call it exciting.
It's really an exciting situation we get into.
It's not really, I guess, a feeling like stress
until maybe afterwards and then a big letdown
if you do happen to screw up, but that's kind of how it is.
The next stage in Atlantis's countdown to launch is to get
fuel aboard its giant external tank.
But over the whole of the next day, the weather takes over.
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realise that
having lightning coming down when you're filling a vehicle with
thousands and thousands of tonnes, here we go,
of liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, it's a dangerous thing.
At the moment, they're trying to get the rotating service structure
back away from the vehicle
so they can get access to it to get the fuel on board,
but they need to have no lightning and better weather than this,
and if that process slips by more than four or five hours,
they're going to have to rethink the whole thing,
possibly going to have to scrub.
-It's a bit crazy in here today, Jeff.
'Atlantis's mission is to rendezvous with the International Space Station,
'but to do that, she has to launch at just the right time.'
I'm seeing lightning, and hearing thunder, do you really think
there's any chance of you getting off the ground tomorrow?
I think the weather we've got coming in tomorrow,
people have said there are some breaks in that weather,
and we only need, it doesn't matter how bad it is beforehand,
it's when we get to that key zero timeframe.
In any given day, how long is the window in which you can launch?
Normally it's about ten minutes long. It's designed to be ten minutes long.
When you're trying to an object going 17,000 miles an hour,
the ability for you to get that point in space at the same time they are,
starting from zero, is really a challenge, so you have to
shoot at just the right spot, at just the right angle so you have
enough of propellant and enough capability on board
to be able to steer the vehicle to meet the station at the right time,
because otherwise, you're not going to hit it.
It's the day before the launch, and taking advantage of a brief
break in the weather, the launch control team decide to press ahead
and peel back the orbiter's protective shield.
She's now ready for fuelling,
and I get my first proper look at Atlantis.
If the weather holds, Atlantis will be fuelled overnight,
ready for launch tomorrow.
In the early hours of the morning, I get the call.
Atlantis has been fuelled, countdown will begin.
Four o'clock in the morning, the morning of the launch.
If's kind of strange.
I didn't really think that I would feel anything in particular
this morning, but as time goes on,
I sort of start to feel like the people we've been talking to,
a bit happy, a bit sad.
There's a small part of me that doesn't want it to go today,
because then the end doesn't have to start so soon.
It's quite unexpected.
As I arrive at Kennedy, I see Rene and Travis from the close-out crew,
preparing to leave the shuttle on the launchpad.
-How are you?
-You ready this morning?
-Yes, sir! Ready.
Do you think the weather's going to hold for you today?
Do you know, it's above my area of expertise.
I've had flight crews out there in the rain before
and we ended up launching,
so I've seen perfect weather and we ended up scrubbing.
So, who knows.
It's the space business, it's what we're in, if it cooperates,
we'll get her off the ground safe. If it's not safe, we won't go.
As dawn breaks, the odds of a successful launch have fallen to 30%.
The launch window opens at 11.21am.
If the weather forecast for that time isn't good,
countdown will be scrubbed.
But that hasn't stopped the public turning out in force.
-..history here on Magic 107.7, with the Space Shuttle launch...
..traffic is backing up...
At 7.35am, Chris, Doug, Rex and Sandy leave their crew quarters
for the three-mile journey to the launchpad.
There they go. They've spent their last night on Earth
in the building just behind me. They're off to the pad now
and hopefully on their way to space in a couple of hours' time.
There's so much riding on this launch today.
The end is hard enough.
No-one wants to go through countdown for it to be
cancelled at the 11th hour.
Up on level 195, Rene and Travis are there to meet the astronauts
and prepare them for flight.
In Houston's Mission Control,
Richard Jones tells his team to expect a decision.
We're getting close, folks.
Expect a go/no-go in the next 10 or 15 minutes.
At the one-mile mark, Kenny is primed and ready.
And by the countdown clock, Terry White is watching.
-Opening event doors.
MUFFLED VOICES OVER RADIO
With the astronauts strapped in and the door locked, everyone is waiting
to hear the weather all-clear from launch director Mike Leinbach.
OK, guys, let's get ready.
OK, we're starting to feel pretty good down here on the ground about this one today,
so on behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you
and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon.
You are clear to launch Atlantis.
I copy that, sir, thank you.
T minus nine minutes and counting.
You know, despite all the weather that cheer you're hearing out there,
that's everyone being told that we're still go for launch,
so they've dodged around the weather, the rainstorms,
the thunderbolts, the lightning. It looks like it might just be
clear enough, and they're going to begin the final countdown to launch.
The giant vent hood is one of the last connections
between Atlantis and the launchpad.
When it's removed, liftoff can begin.
T minus 35, 33.
T minus 31 seconds.
-We're holding at 31.
-We have a problem with the switches.
The launch is suddenly held.
A sensor is saying that
the giant vent hood hasn't retracted and locked.
We are trying to verify using a camera
and we're positioning camera 62 right now.
It's getting pretty desperate now.
There are two minutes left in the launch window,
31 seconds still on the clock.
They have less than two minutes to find out if the sensor is
faulty or if the hood is indeed blocking the launch of Atlantis.
Launch control hunt for a view of the hood. And a decision is made.
We verify it is retracted.
31 seconds still on the clock.
No, no, the clock has started again. So we're 31 seconds to launch.
-Go for sequence start.
-We are counting.
-Main engine start.
MUFFLED VOICE ON RADIO Roger, Atlantis.
Three miles out and more now. You can feel that in your chest.
It's a deafening roar.
Atlantis, go up, throttle up, no action, DPDT.
-Throttle up, no action, DPDT.
-Single engine Zaragoza. 104.
Two minutes after launch, the solid rocket boosters detach
and fall back to the sea.
-Atlantis, negative return.
-MECO, MECO confirmed.
Now standing by for external tank separation.
As she pushes through the earth's upper atmosphere,
Atlantis detaches from its external tank.
Chris, Doug, Sandy and Rex are in orbit.
Atlantis's final mission to the International Space Station
would last 13 days.
Atlantis, station on the big loop, we have you in sight.
We'll be there soon!
The crew deliver over four tonnes of food, water and equipment
that will allow the Space Station to be manned for another year.
In Houston, my friend Dan Tani is capcom,
the astronauts' connection to Earth.
Atlantis crew on the ISS, this is Houston, are you ready for the event?
What advice do you have for kids wanting to get into NASA
and get in the field?
I think our advice would be just to work really hard in school,
especially in science and math,
because that's very, very important in this business.
Sandy, Chris, could you guys turn a flip for us in zero gravity?
-I love it!
-There you go! I like the socks. Very nice.
America now want the commercial sector to take over
Space Station delivery runs,
freeing NASA to develop new spacecraft
to take humans beyond low Earth orbit.
Until then, astronauts travelling to the Space Station
will go on Russian vehicles.
NASA's vehicle assembly building is one of the largest structures
in the world,
but it now lies empty and with no immediate
successor to Shuttle, it's uncertain what will fill this void.
It's sort of eerie being here.
This place ordinarily, between missions, would have been a flurry
of activity while they processed a vehicle, but it's empty now.
And all of this huge, beautiful, specifically engineered infrastructure
is never going to be used to build a shuttle again.
After eight days aboard the Space Station,
Atlantis and her crew prepare to leave.
They still have to face the challenge of re-entry and landing.
We're glad to be heading home and we're happy to serve with you.
We'll see you again.
Thanks a million. We'll see you back home. Take care. Have a safe flight.
It's 5.45am, Kennedy Space Centre, and Atlantis is on her way.
Chris Ferguson has to wrestle with 100 tonnes of unpowered shuttle.
I know exactly what the view looks like from up there,
but this time it's for real.
They'll get one shot at the landing strip today.
This is where all that practice in the training aircraft
is going to pay off.
They really have to get down
and they only have one opportunity to do so.
Landing gear down and locked.
The last landing of Atlantis is perfect.
Nose gear touchdown.
And that's it.
30 years of Space Shuttle programme. As it comes to a halt there,
the whole thing comes to an end.
It's a difficult day for everyone, including someone I've known
for many years, Charlie Bolden, the head of NASA.
He's had to convince the world that it's the right time
-for Shuttle to come to an end.
-How you doing?
-Good to see you.
-Great to see you.
-Thanks for talking to me.
Do you think that we'll ever see a vehicle as complex
and as capable as a Space Shuttle again?
Shuttle is an incredible technological marvel,
but one of its drawbacks was its complexity,
and it is a vehicle that required
thousands, literally thousands of people just to prepare it for flight.
What we're going to do, hopefully, in the future,
is simplify the design, make them technologically superior,
so that it doesn't take an army of people to prepare a vehicle
and to fly it and to recover it.
But Charlie's also a former astronaut,
a veteran of four Shuttle missions.
This being Atlantis's last flight was really special for me.
CHOKING: This was the first Space Shuttle I commanded,
so that made it really special.
But as the administrator of NASA, my job is to do what don't do very well,
and that is to stand in front of people and try not to be emotional.
You've known me a long time,
and I'm just not a person who can not be emotional. I love these people.
I love the vehicles, I love the programme.
I love what they stand for.
The final Shuttle mission marks the end of an incredible era.
This week, NASA will let go of thousands of its brightest and best.
Like me, they got an opportunity to do the flying,
but we owe an incredible debt of gratitude to the thousands,
literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands
of folk around the country who made all this possible.
-Toughest thing for you today?
-Yes, it is.
32 years ago, I was loaned to this building
for three weeks to work on the Shuttle.
32 years later, tomorrow I clear the last things off my desk
and I am no longer an employee of Kennedy Space Centre.
It's very sad.
What are people going to remember Shuttle for?
What is its legacy going to be?
All they have to do is go outside on a clear night at the right time
and they can see the Space Station go over.
It couldn't have been done without the Shuttle.
I hope it's remembered as the biggest, proudest icon of America.
I really do. Nobody else has done it.
I want to think that what we have done here,
what we have accomplished will lead to something equally as great
and I choose to look at it that way.
-Are you going to miss Shuttle?
-Sure, in a way.
But again, I have to look forward.
You can't spend time looking backwards, you got to look forwards.
So, for me, Shuttle is more than a machine, and having spent
a month in the company of the people who made it happen, I have
come to realise that its legacy is far richer than I ever imagined.
You know, it's not the science, or the engineering.
It's not the accidents, it's not even the Space Station.
Shuttle was always more than that.
It changed the way we saw the universe and inspired
everybody whose lives are touched, and he taught a generation to dream.
So that, for me, is its legacy. It is the bridge to all our futures.
In the last month of the space shuttle programme, Kevin Fong is granted extraordinary access to the astronauts and ground crew as they prepare for their final mission. He is in mission control as the astronauts go through their final launch simulation, and he flies with the last shuttle commander as he undertakes his last practice landing flight. Kevin also gains privileged access to the shuttle itself, visiting the launchpad in the company of the astronaut who will guide the final flight from mission control.
Kevin's journey takes him to the heart of Nasa when, after 30 years of shuttle missions, they finally draw the curtain. As well as meeting the final astronauts, Kevin follows the specialist teams of men and women whose job it is to make sure the shuttle and its crew are as safe as they can possibly be.
After experiencing the launch and being in mission control during the final mission, Kevin will be there on the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Centre when Atlantis returns from space for the last time, marking the end of an era in manned space flight.