Atlantis, STS-132 Crew Return Home

Space shuttle Atlantis and six astronauts ended a journey of more than 4.8 million miles Wednesday with an 8:48 a.m. EDT touchdown at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flawless landing wrapped up a highly successful mission to deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, known as "Rassvet" ("dawn" in Russian), to the International Space Station.

"It was smooth as silk," STS-132 Commander Ken Ham said of Atlantis' entry and landing. "We were clearly riding in the middle of a fireball, and it was spectacular. The windows, all of them, were bright, brilliant orange. One of the neatest things was when we flew right into orbital sunrise."

This was the final scheduled flight for Atlantis, which has logged more than 120 million miles during its 25 years of service. The orbiter will go through standard prelaunch preparations as the "launch-on-need" vehicle for Endeavour's STS-134 mission. That flight currently is targeted for November.

The all-veteran astronaut crew headed home to Houston on Thursday. The public is invited to attend the welcome ceremony for the crew Thursday at 4 p.m. CDT at Ellington Field's NASA Hangar 276.

"We're thrilled, because we accomplished the mission that was put in front of us," Ham said. He explained that in addition to the technical objectives of the 12-day mission, the astronauts also wanted to enjoy themselves and share their enthusiasm of spaceflight with the world.

"We've been hearing stories about how folks have been having fun and enjoyed watching us have fun, and that's really important to us."

Atlantis Lands at Kennedy Space Center

With Commander Ken Ham and Pilot Tony Antonelli at the controls, space shuttle Atlantis descended to its final planned landing at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The STS-132 crew concluded its successful mission to the International Space Station when the shuttle touched down at 8:48 a.m. EDT.

The crew began its mission May 14 and arrived at the station May 16.

Using the station’s robotic arm, Mission Specialists Piers Sellers and Garrett Reisman added Rassvet, the Russian Mini-Research Module 1, to the station. The new module will host a variety of biotechnology and biological science experiments and fluid physics and educational research.

During three spacewalks Reisman, along with Mission Specialists Mike Good and Steve Bowen, added a backup high-data-rate antenna to the station and a tool platform to Dextre, the robot-like special purpose dexterous manipulator. They removed and replaced six 375-pound batteries on the station’s P6 truss segment.

STS-132 is the 132nd shuttle mission and the 34th mission to visit the space station. The next mission, STS-133, is slated to launch in September.

Space Shuttle Mission STS 132

Crew Checks Out Shuttle's Thermal Protection System

Space shuttle Atlantis' crew completed today's inspection of the shuttle's thermal protection system at 8:17 a.m. EDT. The crew began the inspection early. They used the 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System to conduct a high fidelity, three-dimensional scan of areas of the shuttle that experience the highest heating during entry - the wing leading edges and nose cap.

Managers and engineers in Mission Control will review the data today and tomorrow to validate the heat shield's integrity. The crew is maneuvering the arm for stowage in Atlantis' payload bay.
The shuttle crew performed a final inspection of Atlantis’ heat shield.

Commander Ken Ham, Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman and Piers Sellers worked on the inspection activities. They used the shuttle robotic arm and the 50-foot-long orbiter boom and its cameras to scan Atlantis’ nose and wings.

The crew of six is also packing up spacesuits and having some time off.

Second STS-132 Spacewalk

Control has revised the timeline for Atlantis' crew, moving it 30 minutes earlier beginning with the planned "campout" for spacewalkers Steve Bowen and Michael Good. The schedule change will allow the spacewalkers time to release the snagged portion of the cable on the camera used for imaging the space shuttle's heat shield. The camera is at the end of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System.

The campout now will begin at 4:45 p.m. EDT, and crew sleep will begin at 6:20 p.m. On May 19, the crew will wake up at 2:20 a.m. and begin the spacewalk at 7:15 a.m.

Bowen and Good will camp out in the station’s Quest airlock at a reduced air pressure, a procedure that helps purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams and prevents the “bends” when they exit the airlock.

Space Shuttle Mission STS-132 Liftoff One Day Away

The countdown is on for Friday's scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis on its STS-132 mission. At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians at Launch Pad 39A continue preparations for the liftoff at 2:20 p.m. EDT. The rotating service structure will be moved away from the spacecraft at 5:30 p.m. today.

"We've had a very clean countdown so far and we're currently on schedule, and we're not working on any issues," NASA Test Director Jeremy Graeber said during a morning status briefing.

On the eve of their launch to the International Space Station, Atlantis’ astronauts will enjoy a quiet day after conducting an L-1 systems and weather briefing with the ascent team of flight controllers at the Mission Control Center in Houston.‪

During the 12-day mission, Atlantis and the mission's six astronauts are delivering an Integrated Cargo Carrier and a Russian-built Mini Research Module to the International Space Station.

Favorable weather is predicted for the rest of the week. According to STS-132 Weather Officer Todd McNamara, the primary launch weather concern is a low cloud ceiling. But the forecast is good overall, calling for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time.

Hubble Catches Heavyweight Runaway Star Speeding from 30 Doradus

A heavy runaway star is rushing away from a nearby stellar nursery at more than 250,000 miles an hour, a speed that will get you to the Moon and back in two hours. The runaway is the most extreme case of a very massive star that has been kicked out of its home by a group of even heftier siblings.

The homeless star is on the outskirts of the 30 Doradus nebula, a raucous stellar breeding ground in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. The finding bolsters evidence that the most massive stars in the local universe reside in 30 Doradus, making it a unique laboratory for studying heavyweight stars. Also called the Tarantula Nebula, 30 Doradus is roughly 170,000 light-years from Earth.

Tantalizing clues from three observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope's newly installed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), and some old- fashioned detective work, suggest that the star may have traveled about 375 light-years from its suspected home, a giant star cluster called R136. Nestled in the core of 30 Doradus, R136 contains several stars topping 100 solar masses each.

The observations offer insights into how massive star clusters behave.

"These results are of great interest because such dynamical processes in very dense, massive clusters have been predicted theoretically for some time, but this is the first direct observation of the process in such a region," says Nolan Walborn of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and a member of the COS team that observed the misfit star. "Less massive runaway stars from the much smaller Orion Nebula Cluster were first found over half a century ago, but this is the first potential confirmation of more recent predictions applying to the most massive young clusters."

Runaway stars can be made in a couple of ways. A star may encounter one or two heavier siblings in a massive, dense cluster and get booted out through a stellar game of pinball. Or, a star may get a 'kick' from a supernova explosion in a binary system, with the more massive star exploding first.

Pad Abort 1 Test Successful

NASA successfully tested the pad abort system for the Launch Abort System developed for the Orion crew exploration vehicle at 9 a.m. EDT. The 97-second flight test is called the Pad Abort 1 test, or PA1. It is the first fully integrated test of the Launch Abort System developed for Orion. The test took place at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, N.M.

The Launch Abort System is being designed to offer a safe, reliable and robust method of removing the astronaut crew from danger should an emergency occur on the launch pad or during the vehicle’s climb to orbit.

Pad Abort-1 Set for May 6 Launch

With hundreds of tests and verifications officially complete, members of the Flight Test Readiness Review board unanimously agreed that Pad Abort 1 (PA-1) is ready for launch May 6 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Often in a readiness review prior to any launch, there are open items that need to be closed before a mission gets the “go-ahead.” If there is an issue with hardware or software, the launch date could be delayed until it is fixed. However, on April 22, the PA-1 team concluded that all flight and support hardware and software are flight ready, launch facilities and range assets are in place and that the flight test team is prepared to execute PA-1 efficiently, effectively, and safely.

PA-1 is the first fully integrated flight test of the launch abort system being developed for the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The test is part of an ongoing mission to develop safer vehicles for human spaceflight applications.

The only question mark for the launch is the weather with the major constraint being wind. The flight test team will monitor the weather closely on test day, leading up to the targeted 9 a.m. EDT launch.

the Universe's First Moments

This graphic shows the universe as it evolved from the big bang to now. Goddard scientists believe that the universe expanded from subatomic scales to the astronomical in a fraction of a second after its birth. They now building, along with their university partner, an instrument that searches for clues that the inflation did, in fact, occur.

Sophisticated new technologies created by NASA and university scientists are enabling them to build an instrument designed to probe the first moments of the universe's existence.

Former NASA scientist Chuck Bennett, now an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, Md., won a $5-million National Science Foundation grant to build a new ground-based instrument, the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor (CLASS). Bennett is building CLASS with his collaborators at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Goddard will provide most of the instrument’s sophisticated detectors and other state-of-the-art technologies that will allow the scientists to test the "inflation theory" of the universe's origin.