Weather permitting, the last-ever NASA shuttle launch will take place today at 11:26am EST. There is currently a 70 percent chance that thunderstorms will delay blastoff of space shuttle Atlantis from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, until Saturday. But despite the gamble, NASA managers have fueled up the shuttle, and the four-member astronaut team is preparing for liftoff.
The Atlantis mission marks the end of NASA’s 30-year shuttle program. Atlantis will spend 12 days in outer space. The crew’s mission: deliver 9,500 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station, which will be used to keep the orbiting space lab operational after the shuttle crew retires.
Officials predict a crowd of about 750,000 people at Kennedy Space Center, and the surrounding towns, to watch this historic event. The crowd will include many former astronauts, including 73-year-old Robert Crippen, who flew the first-ever space shuttle mission aboard Columbia, in 1981.
The end of the space shuttle program has already resulted in the layoff of about 8,000 NASA employees. And another 2,000 will be forced to retire once the program officially ends upon Atlantis’ return.
All is not lost, however; NASA has already begun working on a new spaceship meant to explore deep space. Dubbed the “Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle,” this wingless shuttle has been tasked with the goal of landing astronauts on an asteroid by the year 2025, by President Barack Obama.
Those of us not fortunate enough to see the shuttle liftoff live can watch a live feed, courtesy of UStream, below. (Tip: Clicking the play icon will open the UStream website. Click again to watch the video here.):