The final space shuttle crew's final full day in space began with a fanfare — literally — and fond greetings from Florida.
Atlantis' astronauts woke at 8:32 p.m. CDT Tuesday to Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," followed by a prerecorded message from Kennedy Space Center employees.
"Three... two... one... Good morning, Atlantis!" the group said. "Kennedy salutes you. See you back at wheels stop!"
Kennedy is home to the shuttle fleet, along with its launch pads and the people who prepared the winged orbiters for each trip into space. Atlantis is scheduled to land at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility on Thursday.
Before it does so however, the crew will spend the day checking out the shuttle's flight control surfaces and hot firing its reaction control system jets, making sure everything is ready for deorbit.
Meanwhile, here on the ground, another United States icon will pay its own tribute to Atlantis' mission. The Empire State Building in New York City — instantly recognizable, just as the NASA space shuttle is — will celebrate the space shuttle program Wednesday night by lighting the way home for Atlantis and its crew.
To honor 30 years of space shuttle flights on 135 missions, the Empire State Building will glow red, white and blue throughout Wednesday night as Atlantis prepares to return home ending the last ever shuttle flight.
Each day that the final space shuttle mission is in flight, collectSPACE plans to highlight milestones and events from the space shuttle's history that also occurred on the same day over the past three decades. "Today in Space Shuttle History" will also note "lasts" being set by the STS-135 mission.
STS-135 Flight Day 13, July 20
2001 STS-104 mission specialists Mike Gernhardt and Jim Reilly mark the 32nd anniversary of the first human steps on the moon by taking the first steps out of the International Space Station's Quest airlock, which Atlantis delivered just days earlier.
2009 Space shuttle Endeavour's STS-127 astronauts honored the legacy of Apollo 11 by conducting a spacewalk on the same day that 40 years earlier Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon for the first time. Dave Wolf and Tom Marshburn spent six hours and 53 minutes outside the station completing a number of hardware installation tasks.
2011 Atlantis spends its final day — and the final day for any space shuttle — in orbit. Atlantis also deploys Picosat, the 180th and final payload deployed in space shuttle history.
Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts deployed a small, 8-pound, 5- by 5- by 10-inch technology demonstration satellite, called PicoSat, from inside a canister in the shuttle's payload bay.
The satellite will relay data back to its investigators on the performance of its solar cells for analysis and possible use on future space hardware.
PicoSat was the 180th and final payload deployed in shuttle history. Rex Walheim, mission specialist, marked the milestone with an original poem:
One more satellite takes its place in the sky,
The last of many that the shuttle let fly.
Magellan, Galileo, Hubble, and more,
Have sailed beyond her payload bay doors.
There've filled science books, and still more to come,
The shuttle's legacy will live on when her flying is done.
We wish PicoSat success in space where it roams,
It can stay up here, but we're going home.
Yes soon for the last time we'll gently touch down,
Then celebrate the shuttle with our friends on the ground.
Astronauts ready Atlantis for last shuttle landing
Space shuttle Atlantis' crew wrapped up final preparations for its planned landing at 4:56:58 a.m. CDT Thursday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew stowed the Ku-Band antenna, used for high-data rate communications, at 10:34 a.m. and went to sleep at 12:29 p.m.
Mission managers cleared Atlantis' for entry after reviewing results of the "late inspection" survey of the shuttle's heat shield performed by crew on Tuesday.
Atlantis has two opportunities to return to Earth Thursday morning, both to the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility.
The first opportunity on STS-135's 200th orbit of the planet begins with a deorbit burn 4:49:04 a.m. EDT, setting up 5:56:58 a.m. landing, about 40 minutes before sunrise.
Atlantis' second chance to come home, if needed, starts with the deorbit engine firing at 6:25:44 a.m., for a touchdown at 7:32:55 a.m. EDT.
The official Spaceflight Meteorology Group landing forecast for Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is favorable for a landing on the first opportunity.
"We have a really, really good shot to come home tomorrow morning," said entry flight director Tony Ceccacci. "Of course, you've heard me say this, no matter what the forecast at KSC, it's always 50-50. So when we come in on console tomorrow, we'll go ahead and see what the weather guys have for us and work it accordingly."