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Space Shuttle Final Mission: Atlantis Successfully Lifts Off; The Future of the Space Program

Aired July 8, 2011 - 11:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is now the top of the hour, 11:00 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States. We are 26 minutes away from planned launch of Atlantis, the last shuttle mission, live here at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

We are also anticipating President Obama to speak any moment now from the Rose Garden in the White House.

Take a look at this though.


COOPER (voice-over): Atlantis and its crew of four are ready to make history minutes from now with the last liftoff of the U.S. space shuttle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be at that moment when, it's finally over, that you will be able to exhale, take a breath, understand the significance of the moment.

COOPER: But Americans have been fascinated with space exploration for decades.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon.

COOPER: The first generation of astronauts became our national heroes.

NEIL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT: One giant leap for mankind.

COOPER: Missions that followed broke down barriers on Earth and beyond. NASA made the unimaginable happen before our very eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four return attempts. I was not reporting any RF (ph) at this time.

COOPER: Battles with red tape and unspeakable tragedy may have marred this program, but Americans still feel pride and patriotism when we hear the countdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero and liftoff.

COOPER: And hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope to become an astronaut.

COOPER: Hope for the future of a program that will not end after this, the final launch.


COOPER: The program will not end. Of course, it will be a very different space program in the years ahead, and we'll talk about that in the hour ahead.

The launch, anticipated to be 11:26. Again, a lot depends though on the weather. At this point, it all seems to depend on the weather.

I'm joined here by CNN's John Zarrella, also astronaut Cady Coleman, who most recently spent six months on the International Space Station. We'll talk to her throughout this next hour.


COOPER: 11:26, the time it is supposed to launch. Let's hope it does. What a moment that will be, the last time you will ever see the space shuttle launching from the United States anywhere. The last time the space shuttle will launch. The crew, the four, "The Final Four" they call themselves, is ready to go.

President Obama is going to be speaking from the White House in just about a minute or so. We're going to bring that to you live.

And I'm here again with Cady Coleman and CNN's John Zarrella.

At this point, with the crew that's so experienced, does one get nervous?

COL. CADY COLEMAN, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.) That's up to each individual person. I would doubt it. Actually, they're really focused on the mission. I think from watching on board the station -- we had two shuttles visit us while I was up there -- and I think we're a little nervous -- at least I was a little bit on the station.

You just want those guys to launch, you want them to launch in their window. And you know --

COOPER: Do you enjoy it? I mean, are you so focused on work, or are there moments where you are just like -- you look out the window and --

COLEMAN: Being up there on the space station?

COOPER: Yes. Well, on the station and on the shuttle.

COLEMAN: You know, you have to. And you actually are really busy doing your job. But I think the thing to do is to actually capture a few memories that you just put in a special place that you have. And you can reach back and sort of feel them. But certainly, when launch itself happens, I think there's a part of all of us that is just amazed that people are leaving the planet, and you are one of them.

COOPER: And in terms of where the space program goes in the future, President Obama has said very clearly that he wants NASA to focus -- let's listen. Actually, President Obama is coming to the Rose Garden right now to speak about jobs numbers.

Let's listen to what he has to say.


COOPER: President Obama speaking from the Rose Garden this morning about the weak jobs numbers that came out today.

And again, 11:26, the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, the last launch from the space shuttle program. Thirty years now, history concluding, really, today with this launch, and then, of course, the return days from now.

I'm here with CNN's John Zarrella, also astronaut Cady Coleman.

At this point, Cady, what is going on here both here, the local control, and also Mission Control in Houston?

COLEMAN: So, as we speak, launch control here in Kennedy Space Center is actually having a poll to see if each system is ready. And so they are doing that right now to see if they are go to come out of the nine-minute hold.

COOPER: And it's the launch control here wh9ich controls things until what point?

COLEMAN: Until the shuttle clears the tower, and then it's Mission Control in Houston controlling the mission there. So, launch here, mission Houston.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are polling right now. We can hear. Yes, the range is clear.

The only issue right now that they are facing is whether the weather is go. So that is what we have got. The launch team is ready to proceed. They need a little bit more time they're saying to evaluate the weather.

COLEMAN: So more time is needed. Again, 11:26 -- still on schedule for that 11:26 time.

There's a remarkable video that has made showing all 134 launches of space shuttles. This will be, of course, though, the 135th launch. We'll add that on to this video at the end of this program, once this launch is successful.

But let's just take a minute -- and it runs for like a minute and a half. It's a quick video, all 134 launches in case you have missed them. I think John Zarrella has seen nearly all of them.


ZARRELLA: Just about.

COLEMAN: I don't want to date you here, John, but let's take a look back at the remarkable moments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T minus 10, nine, eight --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have engine start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Start. Four, three --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have liftoff.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shuttle has cleared the tower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roll program initiated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Americans return to space as Discovery clears the tower.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liftoff of Columbia and the first dedicated medical research flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Atlantis speed now 500 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- vehicle in our lower atmosphere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Engines at 100 percent. The vehicle's rate of speed will virtually triple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flight control are standing out for --


COOPER: And we just got breaking news.

John, why don't you tell us about it.

ZARRELLA: Yes. We're listening, and the launch director is saying we're looking better every second. He just told Ferguson, the commander, Christopher Ferguson, to have a good launch. You know, Godspeed. And it's looking real good.

COLEMAN: And have a little fun he said.

ZARRELLA: Have a little fun was what he said.

COOPER: Have a little fun.

COLEMAN: Actually, Fergie then answered just to say from the screw, how they're feeling. And I didn't catch all of it, but just a really nice feature about this is the beginning of one journey, but it's actually a journey that never ends.

ZARRELLA: And an example of what great nations can do, the space shuttle program.

COLEMAN: That's true.

COOPER: Let's take a look at these astronauts.

At this point, the launch is a go. It's going to happen 11:26, just a few minutes from now -- about 10 minutes from now.

Man, that's just going to be a remarkable moment. I mean, this thing, just the last one we will ever see.

They are talking about doing kind of a smaller shuttle that will be able to taxi, they are calling it, that will be able to ferry people to the space station or other missions.

COLEMAN: We've gotten so we understand how to get people up and down. And it's time for NASA to be actually out of that business so we can focus our expertise on harder problems that need solving, which is to go further, and to be (ph) the moon, Mars, asteroids. And so it's going to be --

ZARRELLA: Go for launch. The launch director said, "We're go for launch."

They cleared the last issue, which was a return to launch site if, God forbid, they ever had to try and come back here. They have cleared that issue, that weather issue. That was the last one that they were facing. And they are now clear to pick up the clock at nine. So they're going to start counting it down here.

COOPER: And we'll watch. As soon as that countdown clock starts to move at T minus 9 minutes.

Just to let you know what we're going to do, just in the last few minutes before launch, we're going to stop talking, and you will hear launch control. And you will hear that for many minutes before the launch, and also all the way through once the space shuttle has been launched and it is heading off into space.

We want you to be able to hear all of the natural sound, all the Mission Control, Launch Control. We want you to hear history as it's happening with us, without us talking over it.

ZARRELLA: Now, I was telling you, Anderson, back in 1988, when -- the first return to flight mission -- the clouds kind of opened up and Discovery lifted off. Then it closed back up 30 minutes -- I'm looking up there, and there is a hole about the same size as the one Discovery flew through back in 1988.


COOPER: Four astronauts on board. Let's talk about who those astronauts are: Commander Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim. Most of the -- usually it would be a larger crew.

COLEMAN: That's right. But we actually have to -- I'm starting the nine-minute hold. We're coming out of it. There we go.

ZARRELLA: Yes, out of hold.

COOPER: It just began. T minus 8 minutes, 57 seconds.

COLEMAN: Counting down.

COOPER: And you can hear an applause from the crowd here. No doubt, that applause will be echoed among the million or so people who are estimated to be watching all over this area, on beaches, on boats, all around.

This has really attracted a huge crowd. So many people bringing their families, coming from all around the world, wanting to witness history as it's happening. And there you see the countdown clock.

Now, will there be a hold at all on that?

COLEMAN: There shouldn't be.


COLEMAN: They're go.

COOPER: They're go.

So, commander -- all of these pilots, all of these astronauts have been to space before, some of them, multiple times. Chris Ferguson, this is actually his third space flight.

COLEMAN: Correct.

COOPER: And Rex Walheim has been in space. This is also his third shuttle flight.

COLEMAN: Doug Hurley, I think it's his second.

COOPER: That's right.

COLEMAN: And Sandy, probably her third. It's hard to count. She was one of the space station astronauts.

COOPER: She's actually the most experienced astronaut. She spent the most time in space because she's been on the International Space Station.

COLEMAN: That's true, yes. And she is one of the most organized people that you will ever meet. She's exactly the right person to be the load master, controlling all of those supplies on to the station, and bringing back things that we need.

ZARRELLA: And Ferguson, some of their personalities, Ferguson plays in the band.

COLEMAN: It's true.

ZARRELLA: He's the drummer in the astronaut band Max Q.

COOPER: I've also heard he has a flip camera which he carries around to kind of document everything behind the scenes.

ZARRELLA: It sounds like astronaut Mike Massimino. He's the same way. He brings his camera around and documents it. And Hurley is a big NASCAR fan, the pilot.


COOPER: That's right. He's a colonel in the Marine Corps, a former fighter pilot, also. He said -- he admits to being kind of a speed demon. He likes --

ZARRELLA: Oh, absolutely. And I asked him if he ever broke any of the NASA rules by getting behind the wheel of one of those fast cars when he wasn't supposed to be. Of course, he denied it.

COLEMAN: Hey, there's lots of times -- and actually, he's married to Karen Nyberrg --

COOPER: She was also an astronaut.

COLEMAN: Is also an astronaut. And she's training for the space station as we speak. And they have got a little one.

COOPER: So this is STS-135, the 135th mission. The fifth and final mission.

They started -- the astronauts started calling themselves "The Final Four." And the name has kind of stuck.

And in terms of what the mission is, what are they going to be doing?

COLEMAN: They're bringing a lot of supplies, especially some interesting equipment to the station. Robotics -- a remote robotics servicing unit to be able to refuel satellite from space, understand more about that. They are bringing just an immense number of supplies that are need on the station, and also bringing back some things that we need to investigate further.

COOPER: We have got T minus six minutes and 26 seconds. I don't know if we can show kind of some of the multiple images, because there's multiple cameras and different things happening. So I don't know -- rather than just showing the one image, I don't I few can put a couple of different images on the screen at once.

What are we looking at there?

COLEMAN: So this is right on the pad. You're looking at the main engines, and those are getting cycled and put into position, pressures equalized.

You'll see a little spark right before launch, because it's those main engines that light six seconds before launch. And that little spark is actually just burning up any residual hydrogen that night be there. It's not the lighting of the engines.

ZARRELLA: And if there were a problem, they could still shut down and stop before the solid rockets booster ignites. Once the boosters ignite --

COLEMAN: Then you're going.

ZARRELLA: -- then you're going. One way or another, you're going.

COLEMAN: And actually, what's kind of interesting, if you look at the shuttle on the pad there, it's actually held down on those solid rocket boosters. So there's four huge bolts on each of those.

And when the main engines light, it actually pushes that space shuttle over. You know, pushes it like this. The nose actually swings about six feet, comes back, and when it's in the vertical, that is when the solid rocket boosters light.

COOPER: And can you feel that when you're sitting in the cockpit?

COLEMAN: Absolutely. Yes. We call it the twang.

ZARRELLA: You know, they clear the tower at about 11 seconds. They're already traveling at nearly 1,000 miles an hour. It's something like 900 --

COOPER: Is that right, 11 seconds?

ZARRELLA: Eleven seconds after liftoff.

COLEMAN: If that.

ZARRELLA: And then, very quickly, you're moving up those numbers very, very quickly.

COOPER: And you say you can really feel that.

COLEMAN: Oh, no question. It's actually -- with those solid rocket boosters, it's a pretty rough ride. So you're really kind of shaken.

COOPER: And as I said, with about the last two minutes to go, we're going to just turn this over, the audio over, to Launch Control so you will hear what the astronauts are hearing, you'll hear what is happening in the control room.

ZARRELLA: You know, George Diller, who was doing the commentary for NASA, he started in 1979. He was brought on for the buildup of the shuttle program to do commentary.

And I asked Diller -- and Diller's very first shuttle that he did commentary for was Atlantis. Now he's doing the last one.

He said it was just two days ago when he settled on the words that he was going to use. Of course, he won't tell me what they are, because they're going to be pretty historic, whatever he ultimately says at liftoff, before he turns it over to Rob Navias, who is the voice of Mission Control out in Houston, who will then take over commentary as soon as the shuttle clears the tower.

COOPER: And you think about all the people who have flown on board. There's 355 people that have flown 852 times, on 135 missions, going back since 1981. Sixteen countries, as you said, have been represented with astronauts and people on board this, 14 people, of course, have lost their lives in the two disasters. And, of course, on this day, we remember them all.

ZARRELLA: I know that Lorna Onizuka, the wife of Ellison Onizuka, who died on Challenger, I saw her a couple days ago. She's here. She's watching. She has come to nearly every shuttle launch since about five years after her husband perished, and she said she believes Ellison is looking down on them.

COLEMAN: I have no doubt.

You know, there's only four on this shuttle, but they bring with them the hearts of so many people. It takes so many people to make this work. And you talked about George being back to do the commentary. So many people have worked on these launches, these shuttles, for so long, and all of them are going today.

COOPER: And let's listen in now to Launch Control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We find now that the main engines are in their start position.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Starting now the retraction of the gaseous oxygen. Vent arm, vent hood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CLT, OTC. Clear caution warning (ph) memory. Verify no unexpected errors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fuel cells going to internal. The storm camera being activated at this time. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OTC, PLT (ph). No unexpected errors.


Flight crew, OTC. Close and lock your visors and initiate O2 flow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T minus 2 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is safe for ET (ph) LH2 (ph) pressurization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Solid rocket booster cameras being activated.

T minus 30 seconds.

Sounds of pressure water system is being armed.

T minus 1 minute.

Oxygen and liquid hydrogen drain valves are closed.

T minus 40 seconds. Handing off to Atlantis's computers at T minus 31.

T minus 35, 33.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T minus 31 seconds due to a failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have had a failure. Lock sequencer.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. We need to have the guys go to do the verification per the LCT (ph), please.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to verify using a camera, and we're positioning camera 62 right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Let us now as soon as 62 has swung over and you can verify LCT (ph) for retract, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're holding here at 31 seconds while we get a verification that the GVA (ph) has fully retracted per our pre-plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We verify. Retracted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And you can verify that it is fully retracted per the instructions that we developed, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.


And STD (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: STD (ph) concurs. They satisfied the requirements (INAUDIBLE) go.


And launch director?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. I heard all of that and concur. Press on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Very good.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. I need concurrence to deal with the mast (ph) to clear the hold, please.


And TLS (ph), do you have confirm to go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that. It's a go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Let us know when that's complete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NTD (ph), we have a new (ph) work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, guidance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) the hold time is 3 minutes and 16 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NTD (ph), CTLS (ph) on 212, we're ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Very good.

And launch director, with that cleanup, we're going to go ahead and proceed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Please do.


And all personnel, we are going to pick up the clock here momentarily.

NTLS (ph), you can resume the clock on your mark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that. The clock will resume on my mark.

Three, two, one, mark.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Auto sequence start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Handoff to Atlantis's computers has occurred. Solid rocket booster nozzle steering back in work.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Firing chain is armed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go for main engine start.

T minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 -- all three engines up and burning -- 2, 1, zero, and liftoff!

The final liftoff of Atlantis on the shoulders of the space shuttle. America will continue the dream.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. Roll, Atlantis.

NASA ANNOUNCER: Houston now controlling the flight of Atlantis. The space shuttle spread its wings one final time for the start of a sentimental journey into history.

Twenty-four seconds into the flight, roll program complete. Atlantis now heads down, wings level, on the proper alignment for its eight-and-a-half minute ride to orbit, four-and-a-half million pounds of hardware and humans taking aim on the International Space Station.

Forty seconds into the flight, the three liquid fuel main engines throttling back to 72 percent of rate of performance in the bucket, reducing stress on the shuttle as it goes transonic for the final time.

Engines now revving up, standing by for the throttle-up call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Atlantis go at throttle up, no action DPDT.

WILMORE: Go for throttle up, and no action on the DPDT.

NASA ANNOUNCER: That call from the Captain Com Barry Wilmore, a transducer instrumental only, no action required.

Atlantis now 15 miles in altitude, already 16 miles downrange from the Kennedy Space Center 1:40 into the flight.

Atlantis flexing its muscles one final time.

Atlantis traveling almost 2,600 miles an hour at 21 miles in altitude, 24 miles downrange, standing by for solid rocket booster separation.

Booster officer confirms staging, and a good solid rocket booster separation. Guidance now converging, the main engine steering the shuttle on a pinpoint path to its preliminary orbit.

Two minutes, 20 seconds into the flight, Atlantis already traveling 3,200 miles an hour, 35 miles in altitude, 50 miles downrange.

The propulsion officer reports the orbital maneuvering system engines have ignited, Atlantis kicking on its afterburners for 1:23 for the phase of powered flight.

WILMORE: Atlantis, two engine tow (ph).


WILMORE: Press the ATO, 10 decimal eight. Press demico (ph) 14 decimal seven.

HURLEY: Press ATO (INAUDIBLE); press demico 14 decimal seven.

WILMORE: That is a good read back, Atlantis.

NASA ANNOUNCER: Because of the slightly launch time, Captain Com Barry Wilmore reading up to Pilot Doug Hurley the updated abort boundaries for Atlantis, which is flying on the singular power of its three liquid fuel main engines draining a half of ton of fuel per second from the shuttle's large fuel tank.

Three and a half minutes into the flight, Atlantis is traveling 4,200 miles an hour, 54 miles in altitude, already 120 miles downrange from the Kennedy Space Center.

Three good main engines, three good auxiliary power units, three good fuel cells for Atlantis.

WILMORE: Atlantis, negative return.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negative return.

NASA ANNOUNCER: That call from Captain Com Barry Wilmore indicating that we are too high in altitude, too far downrange to return to the launch site in the event of an engine failure. Atlantis's three engines performing perfectly.

Four minutes, twenty seconds into the flight.

COOPER: (AUDIO GAP) -- John Zarrella listening in as well, and Astronaut Cady Coleman is with us.

Cady, in terms of what is happening now, what is going on?

COLEMAN: Well, they have already gotten rid of the solid rocket boosters, we use up all the fuel, toss them off. Looks like they fall down, but they actually go up another 150,000 feet. COOPER: Is that right?

COLEMAN: Because they're still on their way. Now, those things actually will land in the ocean vertically --

COOPER: Really?

COLEMAN: -- get picked up and cleaned out, could be used again, but in this case, not necessary. I am sure they will pick them up to clean them out though.

And now we are waiting for the main engine cat off, which is going to be 8:30 after launch, by that means they have achieved orbit and on they are on their way to space.

COOPER: You guys have seen this a lot, this is the first time I have actually been here for it. It is completely different, it such a cool experience. The power of it, I mean, we are -- how many miles away are we?

ZARRELLA: About five miles.

COOPER: Five miles away. The sound is deafening.

COLEMAN: You feel it.

COOPER: Yes, you feel it like go through you, and the light is so bright from the boosters that you can barely look at it. I mean, it is such a searing, searing heat.

ZARRELLA: Television has never done it justice. I mean, that's clear.

COLEMAN: We tried.

But I try to tell people that's it is just like nothing you have ever seen. And I try to tell people that it's a big deal for people to leave the planet, even though it has gotten to be every day. I mean, that's what space shuttle has given us is people go to space.

COOPER: You really do feel that they are leaving the planet. I mean, you feel as though they are kind of like ripping a hole in the sky.

COLEMAN: Exactly.

COOPER: It's extraordinary.

ZARRELLA: They are traveling now over 7,000 miles an hour already, 5:30 into the flight.

COOPER: Incredible. Just incredible.

And I mean, to see that -- that column of -- of -- it's just incredible. It's really rather remarkable.

And it's different every time, you say.

COLEMAN: Because, you know, it depends upon where the wind, which way the wind is going, the light, the time of the day, how long you can see the shuttle. It's always -- you know, so every launch picture is going to be different, and I think you will look at every one a little differently now.

COOPER: The closest sound I can think of is -- and it's nothing, it's like a pale comparison to it -- is when you hear like a jet breaking the sound barrier, you hear the boom of a jet overhead, but that is -- I mean, it's nothing compared to this. This is -- I don't know how to describe it.

COLEMAN: You really just feel it through your whole body.

COOPER: Yes. It's extraordinary.

Carol Costello is with us, spectators on the beach.

Carol, from your perspective, I mean, that sound, which doesn't hit, it takes a while for the sound to actually reach -- sorry, Cady, what are we looking at?

COLEMAN: Just looking at -- you can actually see the main engine tank. We are about to separate in a couple of minutes, but you see the edge of the Earth there. So now you see how high they are, because you don't just see the whole Earth behind them, you see the edge of the Earth.

COOPER: So to have gone that high that quickly is just extraordinary. I mean, we're all just sort of still sitting here and it happened just seconds ago, and they are already --

COLEMAN: Look at -- now you can even just make out the things on the Earth.

ZARRELLA: Yes, they are going to be in space like in a minute, minute and a half.

COOPER: And you can -- I mean, are you looking out the window this -- I mean, are these astronauts, at this point, even looking out the window or do they have so many things going on that they are not paying attention?

COLEMAN: I would say most of them have things going on, but if there's nothing going wrong, which on this flight we haven't seen anything go wrong, the mission specialist in the back can actually use the mirrors on their kneeboards to look out the overhead windows. And you can see the blue sky just change to the black of space, any clouds just get shrink like little like cartoon things, just really small.

ZARRELLA: Right at in about one minute from now is when they will have main engine cutoff, and then they'll separate the giant external tank. At that point, you are in space, right?

COLEMAN: Absolutely. ZARRELLA: One minute.

COLEMAN: I mean, they are actually already in space. Fifty miles, then you are in space. But that is the end of the powered flight, and that means we are going to get rid of the big fuel tank, don't need it anymore. And that is why you will see the fuel tanks on the bottom there, you will actually see that separate.

The shuttle will fly away and then do a pitch maneuver so we can take photographs of that tank and diagnose whether any pieces of the foam on the tank might have come off and cause damage.

ZARRELLA: It does not look like it, but I just heard them say they are traveling 15,000 miles per hour, right now.

COLEMAN: Exactly.

ZARRELLA: And when you hit MICO, main engine cutoff, you are over 17,000 miles per hour. It looks like you are standing still.

COLEMAN: And I think this view that you have right now is that you can see the Earth actually getting smaller. I mean, the Earth was big, they were right on the Earth, and now it is getting smaller and smaller.

COOPER: And how long will it take to actually get to the International Space Station?

COLEMAN: You could get there quickly, but the most fuel efficient way will take about two days to catch up.

ZARRELLA: Sunday morning is the schedule docking.


ZARRELLA: All right, main engine cutoff been confirm. So now we're going to see -- you can see it now, watching the separation any second.

COLEMAN: And this is loud on board. It is really loud.

ZARRELLA: That's what I've heard.

COLEMAN: There are explosive charges that do the separation.

COOPER: So what is actually happening here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now standing by for the external tank separation.

COLEMAN: The shuttle is going to actually fly away from the tank there. The tank stays in one place, and now the shuttle goes. And the camera is on the tanks, so we see the shuttle gracefully arcing away.

NASA ANNOUNCER: Atlantis off the tank. Commander Chris Ferguson will be maneuvering Atlantis now into an orientation to enable Sandy Magness to capture digital still imagery of the external fuel --

COLEMAN: Get a couple of chances to look at the shuttle.

COOPER: So at this point, then, how does the shuttle maneuver?

COLEMAN: It's got jets that use fuel that when the two kinds of fuel actually combine they make a gas and that gives them propulsion. It's like a jetpack, but we've got them all over the shuttle so they can maneuver it. So now you're seeing a view from the --

COOPER: So it can move from all different directions?

COLEMAN: Exactly.

So they are actually maneuvering the shuttle so that they can then turn around and look at the tank, and Sandy will be snapping picture after picture in detail up and down the tank. That's one way to sort of investigate how did ascent go in terms of debris and to look at how did the tank fare.

And then when the shuttle approaches the space station, the shuttle will sort of do a belly flip in front of the station, and the station astronauts will photograph it.

COOPER: Extraordinary. Just incredible.

As we continue to watch these images, let's also check in with Carol Costello who is on the beach with spectators.

Carol, from this vantage point it was extraordinary, I imagine similar reaction there.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of reaction. As the space shuttle took off, there were chants of "USA, USA" and a giant cheer went up from the crowd. These folks have stuck around to talk with us.

And you tried eight times to see the shuttle, you finally did, what went through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was as happy that it get got to the point where I could get that off my bucket list. That last couple of seconds where they stopped for a camera. A camera of all things to keep me from not seeing it.

So I am glad that I don't have to come for a ninth try. So I am happy to see it go off.

COSTELLO: As you saw the shuttle lifting off, pride I mean, was it country that went through your mind? Was it just excitement? What was it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a little bit of everything. I am glad I got to see that I got to be part of history, you know, a beginning and an end, because there is something new that's coming after this, and I got to be here with all of these people here and wonderful Americans to experience that.

COSTELLO: I know. A lot of cheers for that. Thank you very much.

Counted license plates from 26 states, met a man from Australia, New Zealand and there was another one from Scotland, right? Yes, it's been amazing.

OK, Matthew (ph), you were sleeping, because you got here very early this morning. You were awake for the launch, thank goodness. So when you saw it, what adjective described it best?


COSTELLO: I knew that word was coming to mind.

Are you glad to be part of history?


COSTELLO: And did you ever have dreams of becoming an astronaut?


COSTELLO: Do you think that it will still be possible, even though this is the last shuttle launch?


COSTELLO: You do? And I will ask your mom that very question, because it was exciting for you, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, it was awesome.

COSTELLO: There are some people who think that this is the end of the space program. Even though other programs on tap, it will be quite some time, maybe not within his lifetime, that we will see someone on board something like a space shuttle.

What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just hope that they continue to go farther into space, and keep going, and maybe one day he will be part of it or maybe his kids.

COSTELLO: Do you think that it was correct of the president to tell NASA to go into a different direction?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he was. I think that because of that we should go to the moon and to Mars and visit other planets and see stuff.

COSTELLO: So although it is a sad day because this is a last shuttle that has gone up, that is OK by you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't sad. It was a good ending to a great vacation here in Florida.

COSTELLO: That is awesome.

See, there are still hopeful Americans out there, Anderson. But I got to tell you, when we saw the bright lights of the shuttle going off and the chants of "USA, USA" began, it was hard not to cry, frankly.

COOPER: Wow. Just so many extraordinary different emotions. I mean, to witness it in person, so much different than seeing it on TV. But we're glad that the launch happened and that folks around the world were able to watch it on our coverage.

I'm here still with Cady Coleman and CNN's John Zarrella.

I sound like an idiot, because while Carol was talking to people, all I kept saying to you was like, wow. I mean, I still can't get over the power of that machine and the technology required to make this happen.

COLEMAN: It is an emotional thing. I cry at probably almost every one that I see in person, because it is so clear how much power there is. And there are people in there, and in my case, I know them, and you know they are doing something that they think is really important.

COOPER: You brought your son with you here today. Why did you want him to be here and see it?

COLEMAN: I wanted him to see a launch when I was not on the rocket. I wanted to do that together so that we'd get to kind of talk about what launch feels like, you know, to watch it. Because for me to watch a launch is actually -- I'm pretty nervous watching it, and I wonder what it was like for him.

COOPER: It has got to be amazing to hear the kids, as we heard earlier I think Carol interviewing or Brooke interviewing a little boy who was saying he wants he wants to be a astronaut, it's got to be an amazing feeling when you hear somebody say that.

COLEMAN: Well, because they think it's just like one more -- I mean, they could be this, they could be that, they could be an astronaut. They just think it's normal. And I think that means that means we have achieved a lot of the goals. They think that going to space is normal.

COOPER: And the shuttle really has done that. I mean, it is a workhorse, it has, you know, been the site of so many firsts -- the first woman in space, and African-American in space, and African- American woman.

ZARRELLA: I mean, we call it iconic, and it really is. It is right up there with the Coca-Cola symbol and the CNN symbol. I mean, really, the shuttle is the shuttle around the world. Everybody knows what the shuttle is. It is not mistaken for anything else. COLEMAN: And people believed it is possible for us to leave the planet, live in space, go to other places, and I think that that means we have achieved a huge goal.

And the fact that the shuttle has built the space station, I mean, not alone, but certainly a large piece of it. Large pieces of the space station come up in the shuttle, dock to the station, robotic arm reaches out, takes that next big module, attaches it. And now, I mean, I just came back from there, and it's huge and it's capable. It has power, data, all those things that we need to do things we just can't do down here.

COOPER: Well, there won't be any more shuttle missions like this, but there will be other missions. We will talk about what is ahead in a moment.

As we go to break, want to show you the launch once again, because frankly, there is nothing like it.

Let's take a look.




NASA ANNOUNCER: Go for main engine start.

T minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 -- all three engines up and burning -- 2, 1, zero and liftoff!

The final liftoff of Atlantis on the shoulders of the space shuttle, America will continue the dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over to you, Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, roll, Atlantis.

NASA ANNOUNCER: Houston is now controlling the flight of Atlantis. The space shuttle spreads its wings for one final time for the start of the sentimental journey into history.

Twenty-four seconds into the flight, roll program is complete, Atlantis heads down wings level on the proper alignment for its 8:30- minute ride to orbit. Four and a half million pounds of hardware and humans taking aim on the International Space Station.


COOPER: Sentimental journey into history, and a journey into the future. The future of the space program will continue, we are going to talk about that in just a moment.

Want to just check in with Brooke Baldwin who is at the Kennedy Space Center at the Visitor Complex with some of the many people, and again, estimates of as many as a million people watching all around this area.

Brooke, what did you see from there? Pretty amazing.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was spectacular. It is emotional. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, and this truly -- I've said it before -- this is really a dream assignment covering this final launch here.

And Linda Johnston (ph) I met just after it launched. And I know your tears are dry, although I see you welling up now. Why is it emotional for you?

LINDA JOHNSTON, ATLANTIS SPECTATOR: Well, this is something I have always wanted to do. I have always been interested in the space program, and I think that it is a shame that it is not going to be around anymore, but I understand why. It is just amazing to me the number of people that were here today, from all over the world, they were -- I heard every dialect in the world.

BALDWIN: Every dialect, every language.



BALDWIN: Linda with her entire family over here. Linda, thank you very much.

And just quickly, Ed (ph), this is sort of a beginning and end moment for you. You were here in '81 in a kayak watching STS-1 in April of '81. Compare that moment to this?

ED, ATLANTIS SPECTATOR: Back then it was exciting. It was the first time that it launched, it was the first time I saw it. But this time, I think, is a little more exciting for me, because I got to bring my own family here.

BALDWIN: Bring you entire family.

ED: Yes.

BALDWIN: Thousands of people, Anderson, thousands of people are here. I wanted to be an astronaut, too, until I took physics. Talked to Cady Coleman about her physics experience early on. She told me the other day she wasn't great at physics earlier. So perhaps my future would have been much different had I talked to Cady many years ago.

Back over to you guys.

COOPER: Well, somehow she recouped cause she was at MIT when she first heard Sally Ride, and that's when she first wanted to be an astronaut. So getting into MIT must be a sign of some knowledge in science, cause there's no way I could have done that.

COLEMAN: Well, you know, when there's something like that that's not instinctive for you, and physics isn't. Chemistry I love, but it just means -- it doesn't mean it's not for you, it means you got to work a little harder at it.

COOPER: It was too hard for me to even contemplate working.

It may be the final launch of the space shuttle, it's certainly not the end of space travel. We're going to talk now about the future of space exploration, where do we go.

Our guest is John Elbon, vice president of Boeing for Commercial Crew Programs, also CNN's John Zarrella joins me, as well as Cady Coleman, astronaut.

First of all, what was it like for you just watching this?

JOHN ELBON, VICE PRESIDENT, BOEING COMMERCIAL CREW PROGRAMS: Oh, it was an emotional thing. I was with a group of engineers who had been working on this shuttle through its life, and we all had tears in our eyes as the shuttle went up. It was -- you know, it punched through the clouds there.

COOPER: Incredible.

ELBON: I mean, kind of vantage. And it was just a really emotional setting.

COOPER: Cause we all focus, of course, on the four astronauts on board, but they are there because of thousands of other people who have been working tirelessly for years to make this reality.

ELBON: Absolutely. That's their career. We have invested our lives in that. And -- the shuttle's an icon of the space program, to have it come to an end, of course, is a sad thing. But I think it's important that we treat that as a transition point and look forward to what's ahead.

COOPER: What do you see as what's ahead? What is the future?

ELBON: I think there's two clear path ahead. The space station is still up there in low-Earth orbit. There are still U.S. astronauts and international astronauts on that space station.

COOPER: And that's going to continue.

ELBON: That will continue. Currently, through 2020; hopefully, beyond that. So we need to have systems that can resupply, take crew and keep that system healthy.

COOPER: And that's what -- the Atlantis is bringing a lot of supplies, going to be taking some used supplies off the International Space Station.

For now, until there's another kind of vehicle that can bring astronauts to a space station, the U.S. is going to be working with Russia, paying the Russian space program to use the Soyuz spaceship to bring people up. ELBON: That's true for the near term. We're working on a capsule as part of the Commercial Crew Program along with other companies doing that. And we're on a path to be able by 2015 to carry U.S. astronauts on a U.S. vehicle again to the space station.

COOPER: So that's -- that's for low-Earth orbit. Farther beyond, the Obama administration has talked about trying to get NASA to kind of think bigger, to think beyond low Earth, to use commercial flights, commercial spaceflights for low-Earth orbit. Is more of the trip possible? How far in the future?

ELBON: Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is the real prize for what's next. We're been going to low-Earth orbit for a long time and we need to continue use the station, but we need to really need to focus beyond low-Earth orbit.

So the system we're work on for transportation to station is going to make that part of the transportation more affordable, so NASA then has funds available to invest in capabilities for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit back to the moon, to asteroids and eventually beyond Mars.

COOPER: But -- I mean, I was listening to what the president was saying, and he was saying we need new technology. The technology now isn't there necessarily for -- to deal with the radiation that astronauts would get trying to get to an asteroid.

ELBON: There's lots of technology that needs to be developed, dealing with radiation is one. It's a long flight to Mars, having systems that are capable of that kind of a long spaceflight are important. Mars has an atmosphere we have to be able to enter through. When we landed on the moon there wasn't an atmosphere.

And so, those technologies have to be developed so that we can do those great missions.

COOPER: And in terms of unmanned spaceflight, there's a lot ahead with robot exploration of Jupiter and Mars rover and other things.

ELBON: There's a lot to be learned in the solar system using robots exploring other places, but people going there is just kind of what it's about.

COOPER: Yes, and we saw a great example of that today.

John, appreciate your time. Thanks for being with us.

ELBON: Thank you.

COOPER: Got to take a quick break. We'll talk more with Cady Coleman, John Zarrella and others ahead.


COOPER: Well, we're going to be showing you -- in a moment, we're going to show you all of the shuttle missions, all the launches, all 135 of them, which is just an extraordinary video that will take about two minutes or so. So that's at the end of our program.

But we want to tell you about the retirement homes for our long- serving shuttles. Twenty-one museums put in bids to house the shuttle once they are all decommissioned, only three sites received the honor. Shuttle Atlantis will stay in Cape Canaveral at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Endeavour is headed to the California Science Center, and Discovery's new home will be the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

As a tribute to all the shuttles and the people behind them, here's 134 launches in 134 seconds, plus the one that just made history today.

Take a look and enjoy.


COOPER: You just heard him say, "a sentimental journey into history."

Cady Coleman, for you, what's the state of mind?

COLEMAN: Just watching the space shuttle fleet bringing four more people to space. I mean, now we live there. It's a big accomplishment for the fleet. And I liked what they said, "America and the world riding on the shoulders of the space shuttle."

COOPER: And the programs will continue, even though the space shuttle won't?

COLEMAN: The space shuttle is one of the ways up and down. We've got a space station up in space that we're using, it's amazing, it's enormous. The guys up there are ready for the shuttle visit. And I think it's a bright future.

COOPER: Well, it's an honor to have spent the day with you. Thanks for being with us.

John Zarrella is going to continue on CNN throughout the day. Thanks for sharing this moment in history with us.

"CNN NEWSROOM" begins with Fredricka Whitfield.