Space Shuttle Atlantis
By Marty McDowell/NASA
Atlantis, the fourth orbiter to become
operational at Kennedy Space Center, was named after the primary research
vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts from
1930 to 1966. The two-masted, 460-ton ketch was the first U.S. vessel to
be used for oceanographic research. Such research was considered to be one
of the last bastions of the sailing vessel as stream-and-diesel-powered
vessels dominated the waterways.
The steel-hulled ocean research ship was approximately 140 feet long
and 29 feet wide to add to her stability. She featured a crew of 17 and
room for five scientists. The research personnel worked in two onboard
laboratories, examining water samples and marine life brought to the
surface by two large winches from thousands of feet below the surface. The
water samples taken at different depths varied in temperature, providing
clues to the flow of ocean currents. The crew also used the first
electronic sounding devices to map the ocean floor.
The spaceship Atlantis has carried on the spirit of the sailing vessel
with several important voyages of its own, including the Galileo planetary
explorer mission in 1989 and the deployment of the Arthur Holley Compton
Gamma Ray Observatory in 1991.
In the day-to-day world of Shuttle operations and processing, Space
Shuttle orbiters go by a more prosaic designation. Atlantis is commonly
referred to as OV-104, for Orbiter Vehicle-104. Empty Weight was 151,315
lbs at rollout and 171,000 lbs with main engines installed.
Upgrades and Features
Atlantis benefited from lessons learned in the construction and testing
of Enterprise, Columbia
and Challenger. At rollout, its weight was
some 6,974 pounds less than Columbia. The Experience gained during the
Orbiter assembly process also enabled Atlantis
to be completed with a 49.5 percent reduction in man hours (compared to
Columbia). Much of this decrease can be attributed to the greater use of
thermal protection blankets on the upper orbiter body instead of tiles.
During the construction of Discovery and
Atlantis, NASA opted to have the various contractors manufacture a set of
'structural spares' to facilitate the repair of an Orbiter if one was
damaged during an accident. This contract was valued at $389 million and
consisted of a spare aft-fuselage, mid-fuselage, forward fuselage halves,
vertical tail and rudder, wings, elevons and a body flap. These spares
were later assembled into the orbiter Endeavour.
Atlantis was shipped to California to undergo upgrades and modifications.
These modifications include a drag chute, new plumbing lines that
configure the orbiter for extended duration, more than 800 new heat
protection tiles and blankets and new insulation for the main landing gear
doors, structural mods to the Atlantis airframe. Altogether, 165
modifications were made to Atlantis over the 20 months it spent in
- 01/29/79 Contract Award
- 03/03/80 Start structural assembly of Crew Module
- 11/23/81 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
- 06/13/83 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
- 12/02/83 Start of Final Assembly
- 04/10/84 Completed Final Assembly
- 03/06/85 Rollout from Palmdale
- 04/03/85 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
- 04/09/85 Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
- 09/05/85 Flight Readiness Firing
- 10/03/85 First Flight (51-J)
Atlantis "destacked" on 01/27/88,
Atlantis's Flights to date:
- 01. 51-J (10/3/85)
- 02. 61-B (11/26/85)
- 03. STS-27 (12/2/88)
- 04. STS-30 (05/04/89)
- 05. STS-34 (10/18/89)
- 06. STS-36 (02/28/90)
- 07. STS-38 (11/15/90)
- 08. STS-37 (04/05/91)
- 09. STS-43 (08/02/91)
- 10. STS-44 (11/24/91)
- 11. STS-45 (03/24/92)
- 12. STS-46 (07/31/92)
- 13. STS-66 (11/03/94)
- 14. STS-71 (6/27/95)
- 15. STS-74 (11/12/95)
- 16. STS-76 (03/22/96)
- 17. STS-79 (9/16/96)
- 18. STS-81 (1/12/97)
- 19. STS-84 (5/15/97)
- 20. STS-86 (9/25/97)
To Palmdale for repairs 11/5/97 (arrived 11/14/97, returned
- 21. STS-101 (3/16/99)
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First launch of Atlantis, November 20, 1985.
Courtesy of NASA