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Overview

Space Shuttle Atlantis is one of the three currently operational Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle fleet of NASA, the space agency of the United States; (The other two are Space Shuttle Discovery and Space Shuttle Endeavour.) Atlantis was the fourth operational shuttle built. "Atlantis" is named after a two-masted sailing ship that operated from 1930 to 1966 for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

In early 2008, NASA officials decided to keep Atlantis flying until 2010, the projected end of the Shuttle program This reversed a previous decision to retire Atlantis in 2008

Current status

Atlantis is currently in its Orbiter Processing Facility being prepared for launch on STS-125, the final shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope as early as May 12, 2009.

History

First Flight

The first flight of Atlantis, STS-51-J, took place during October 1985. The mission was one of five flights during which crews conducted classified military activities. Atlantis flew one other mission, STS-61-B, before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster temporarily grounded the shuttle fleet in 1986.

Other Flights

Atlantis was used for ten flights between 1988 and 1992. Two of these, both flown in 1989, deployed planetary probes (Magellan on STS-30 and Galileo on STS-34). Another mission, STS-37 flown in 1991, deployed the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

Mir Missions

Beginning in 1995 with STS-71, Atlantis made seven straight flights to Mir (a Russian space station) as part of the Shuttle-Mir Program.

After STS-86, the seventh flight of Atlantis to Mir, the orbiter underwent a series of refitting operations. From November 1997 to July 1999, about 165 modifications were made to Atlantis, including the installation of the Multifunction Electronic Display System, or glass cockpit. In May 2000 Atlantis returned to service for STS-101, a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The first mission flown by Atlantis after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster was STS-115, conducted during September 2005. The mission carried the P3/P4 truss segments and solar arrays to the ISS.

The longest mission flown using Atlantis -- STS-117 during June 2007 -- lasted almost 14 days. Because Atlantis is not equipped to take advantage of the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System, missions cannot be extended by making use of power provided by ISS.

Withdrawal

NASA had planned to withdraw Atlantis from service in 2008, as the orbiter would have been due to undergo the scheduled Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP); this is a major program of refit and maintenance which would have lasted at least a year. Because of the final retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2010, this was deemed uneconomic. It was planned that Atlantis would be kept in near flight condition to be used as a parts hulk for Discovery and Endeavour. However, with the significant planned flight schedule up to 2010, the decision was taken to extend the time between OMDPs, allowing Atlantis to be retained for operations. Atlantis has been swapped for one flight of each of the other orbiters in the flight manifest. As of March 2008, Atlantis is now projected to fly at least three more missions prior to the end of the shuttle program:

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