It was October 3 1985 when Atlantis, America’s fourth space shuttle, blasted off on its maiden voyage. Its name pays tribute to an illustrious and long-serving ocean-bound research ship in the US.
The Atlantis shuttle’s career began with military missions for the Defence Department. Now, after a quarter of a century of loyal service, the orbiter is going into retirement, with its 32nd and final flight.
Its last journey takes the shuttle back to the International Space Station. It has delivered vital components there several times before.
Already, Atlantis has travelled 115,770,929 miles in 282 days in orbit. Some 185 crew members have travelled on board the shuttle whose out-of-this-world vital statistics will be proudly displayed when it eventually takes its place as an exhibit in an American museum.
Its missions included: launching the Galileo probe to Jupiter, putting the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory in orbit, making the first shuttle docking at Mir and the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Atlantis flew the first seven missions to dock with Mir, the Russian space station. When linked together, Atlantis and Mir formed the biggest spacecraft in orbit at the time.
But 17 years after the Challenger disaster, NASA’s shuttle programme was to be hit by tragedy again. In 2003, Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew members were killed. A suspension of shuttle flights followed.
Atlantis’ career includes a stint in the movies. In the 1998 film Armageddon, the shuttle is destroyed by meteorites.