Final Fantasy

Captions by Robert Nemiroff & Jerry Bonnell

Oliver Tank – Last Night I Heard Everything In Slow Motion
Dreams (2011)

Surreal colors and otherworldly forms fill a world that most of us will never visit. Astrophysicist Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell chart the last journeys of space shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis before they were permanently retired as museum artifacts.

Named after British HMS Endeavour, the ship that took Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery, Endeavour was the fifth and final space shuttle to be built by NASA, and took off on its virgin flight in 1992. In May 2011, it left on its final mission STS-134, the last flight under the NASA Space Shuttle Program.

Formally commenced in 1972, space shuttles were launched under the program to assemble the International Space Station, a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit.

However, an additional mission STS-135 was authorized by President Barack Obama in 2010 to bring additional supplies to the International Space Station. Undertaken by space shuttle Atlantis, it became the last space shuttle to be launched under the Space Shuttle Program. Retired after its final mission in July 2011, the voyage of Atlantis on STS-135 marked the closing chapter in the construction of the International Space Station (ISS).

final fantasy NASA international space station

Dark Shuttle Approaching

What’s that approaching? Astronauts on board the ISS first saw it far in the distance. As it approached, it enlarged into a dark silhouette. As it came even closer, the silhouette appeared to be a spaceship. Finally, at just past 11 pm (CST), the object, revealed to be the Space Shuttle Endeavour, docked as expected with the Earth-orbiting space station. Pictured here, Endeavour was imaged near Earth’s horizon as it approached, where several layers of the Earth’s atmosphere were visible. Directly behind the shuttle was the mesosphere, which appeared blue. The white atmospheric layer was the stratosphere, while the orange layer was Earth’s troposphere.

Many tasks have been planned for this shuttle mission, which began with a dramatic night launch and will continue into next week. These tasks include the delivery of the Tranquility Module, which includes a cupola bay window complex that may allow better views of spaceships approaching and leaving the space station.

February 16, 2010

final fantasy NASA international space station

Photography by ISS Expedition 28 Crew, NASA

Atlantis’ Last Approach

For the last time, the US Space Shuttle has approached the ISS. Following a dramatic launch from Cape Canaveral last week that was witnessed by an estimated one million people, Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-135 lifted a small crew to a welcome rendezvous three days ago with the orbiting station. Although NASA is discontinuing the aging shuttle fleet, NASA astronauts will be able to visit the ISS on Russian space flights in the near future. Pictured above, Atlantis rises toward the ISS with its cargo bay doors open with a gleaming metallic Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module on display. More than 200 kilometers below lay the cool blue waters of planet Earth.

July 13, 2011

Read more in N˚4: Flight.