Space shuttle Atlantis will embark this Friday on its final journey, symbolizing the end of NASA’s illustrious space shuttle program. Yesterday, the last crew of the orbiter Atlantis arrived at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, where the launch will take place.

Commander Chris Ferguson said: “I think I speak for the whole crew in that we are delighted to be here after a very arduous nine-month training flow and we’re thrilled to finally be here in Florida for launch week.”

Joining Ferguson (left in photo) for the 12-day STS-135 mission to the International Space Station are pilot Doug Hurley (second left), and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. (c) NASA

Joining Ferguson (left in photo) for the 12-day STS-135 mission to the International Space Station are pilot Doug Hurley (second left), and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. (c) NASA

Once with the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA will be left with no kind of means of launching manned flights into orbit. Outsourcing are planned to other governments space programs, like the Russian Soyuz which costs $50 million a flight. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, though, named private ventures such as SpaceX as the best way to get astronauts to the ISS, “rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments”, while leaving NASA to focus on the bigger picture. This certainly remains to be seen.

NASA moving on to bigger goals

Bolden also insisted last week that America was set to embark on the “grand challenge” of human space exploration beyond Earth orbit and the Moon. Apparently he relates how president Obama has entrusted NASA with circling and eventually landing a man on Mars, as well as surfacing an asteroid, as primarily goals for the agency in the forthcoming half a century.

“We are not ending human space flight, we are recommitting ourselves to it and taking the necessary – and difficult – steps today to ensure America’s pre-eminence in human spaceflight for years to come,” he said.

Watch the last shuttle launch

Taking our eyes a bit off the future, and onto the present to more delicate things, if you’re a few states within the Kennedy Space Center, then I’d recommend you don’t miss the chance of witnessing first hand the last shuttle launch. You’ll be joining, though, another 750.000 people who will also be attending, says NASA, however most likely the number is somewhere over one million.

NASA sold tickets for two launch viewing sites – NASA Causeway, about 6 miles (9.6 km) from the Atlantis’ Launch Pad 39A, or from Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor’s Center. Both options have been totally sold out, however. Tickets are actually going as much as $1000 on eBay at the moment.

You don’t need to be that close to the launch anyway. Being even a dozen miles away from the launch sites will offer an once in a lifetime glimpse. Space.com recommends the city of Titusville, just 12 miles across the Indian River from Kennedy Space Center, as a premiere spot. The town of Port Canaveral, a popular harbor for cruise ships, is also a good choice, affording largely unobstructed views. Another good option for shuttle viewing is a spot along the coast in the nearby city of Cocoa Beach.

Of course, for those of us nowhere near the United States in the first place, there’s always the online alternative. NASA, as well as countless other media outlets, will broadcast the launch countdown and liftoff live on its NASA TV channel.

Atlantis is due to lift off at 15:26 GMT on 8 July

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