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Atlantis' Payload Bay Closed for Final Time

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Atlantis' Payload Bay Doors Closed for Final Time

Inside Orbiter Processing Facility-2 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Tim Keyser, the midbody mechanical lead with United Space Alliance (USA), and Ray Propst, USA Atlantis flow manager, watched as space shuttle Atlantis' two 60-foot-long payload bay doors were closed for the final time Sept. 20.

"It's a proud moment for me helping to prepare this orbiter for display," Keyser said. "It doesn't get any better than this."

Propst said, "It's an honor to work with these folks, who continue to skillfully perform these complex tasks in spite of the obvious distractions."

During shuttle missions, the payload bay doors were controlled from the flight deck. But since the final power down of Atlantis occurred on Dec. 22, 2011, the operation to close the doors would have to be accomplished a different way.

In his role as move director for the Atlantis payload bay door closure operation, Keyser carefully monitored all of the activities and gave the "go" to close the doors. Bob Emerson, a USA mechanical engineer, used the payload retention latch control box, which was connected to Atlantis' door drive motors, to begin the process of slowly closing the left, or portside door, and then the right, or starboard door.

"It's sad that this is the end of the shuttle program, but I'm looking forward to seeing how Atlantis is going to look on display," Emerson said. "I hope to finish out the shuttle program here and move on to be part of NASA's next space exploration program."

The entire process took only about an hour, with the actual closing of both doors taking under two minutes, a stark contrast to the launch vehicle's 307 days spent in space on 33 missions during its 27-year career.

Technicians on platforms at both ends of the payload bay doors used speed wrenches in gear boxes located on Atlantis to lock the doors in place. Another technician slowly was moved along in a bridge bucket above Atlantis to lock the centerline latches in place.

Closing the payload bay doors is part of NASA's Transition and Retirement work on the remaining space shuttle at Kennedy.

NASA Flow Director for Orbiter Transition and Retirement Stephanie Stilson said preparations have been going extremely well and the significant work on Atlantis is completed.

"Closure of Atlantis' payload bay doors is one of the significant final milestones in order to prepare Atlantis for its move to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex," Stilson said. "We are always proud to achieve a milestone on schedule, but it also is sad that this was the last time our team performed this task."

According to Propst, the yellow strongbacks on the payload bay doors will be removed, a portion of them will be modified, and then reattached to the payload bay doors to support their reopening for display at the visitor complex.

On Nov. 2, Atlantis will be transported atop the Orbiter Transport System along Kennedy's roadways en route to the visitor complex where it will be housed until the display facility is completed.

"We're staying focused on getting Atlantis safely to the visitor complex," Keyser said.

Including the final shuttle mission, STS-135, Atlantis traveled nearly 126 million miles, orbited the Earth 4,848 times, and carried 207 astronauts into space along with several components to help construct the International Space Station.

Linda Herridge

NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center


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