Atlantis Delivers Spares, Lands

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WASHINGTON — Space Shuttle Atlantis landed the morning of Nov. 27 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, capping an 11-day mission to the international space station that included three spacewalks and the installation of two external platforms laden with spare parts needed to keep the station up and running after the shuttles are retired.

The logistics mission, designated STS-129, was NASA’s fifth and final shuttle flight of 2009.

Among the more than 12,000 kilograms of spares delivered during the mission were two spare gyroscopes, various tanks and pumps and replacement parts for the station’s robotic arm.

Atlantis and its seven-member crew also delivered several new science experiments and an ultra-high frequency communications payload developed by Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies. That payload will facilitate communication between the station and the unmanned Dragon Capsule the company is building to deliver cargo to the station after the shuttle retires.

NASA expects to conduct five more shuttle missions by the end of September 2010.

The next shuttle mission is scheduled for February, when the Space Shuttle Endeavour is due to deliver the pressurized Tranquility module, which will provide room for many of the space station’s life support systems.

Atlantis, which has flown 31 times since entering service in 1985, is slated to fly its final mission in May.

NASA has conducted a total of 16 space shuttle missions since the loss of the Columbia orbiter in February 2003 led to a decision to end the shuttle program after completing assembly of the international space station.

The United States intends to keep the station in service at least through 2015 supported by existing European, Japanese and Russian spacecraft, as well as U.S. commercial craft still in development.