Posted: March 30, 2010 Workers attached the shuttle Atlantis' orange external fuel tank to its solid rocket boosters Monday, accomplishing another key step before the ship's last scheduled blastoff May 14.A crane lifted the 154-foot-long tank from a test cell into high bay No. 1 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building early Monday.The day-long process was completed around 6 p.m. EDT Monday as the rust-colored tank was bolted to the shuttle's twin solid rocket boosters stacked atop a mobile launcher platform, a NASA spokesperson said.Atlantis is scheduled to roll out its hangar at the Kennedy Space Center April 13. After arriving inside the VAB, the orbiter will be hoisted into place and firmly attached to the external tank. Plans call for the fully-assembled shuttle stack to move to launch pad 39A around April 20.NASA photographer Jack Pfaller took these photos as the external tank was lifted from its test cell to meet the solid rocket boosters inside the VAB.Photo credit: NASA-KSCPhoto credit: NASA-KSC | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.Hang 'em high: Atlantis hoisted inside VAB After rolling into the Vehicle Assembly Building around midday Tuesday, the shuttle Atlantis was rotated vertical to be lifted into adjacent High Bay 1, where an external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters were ready to welcome the orbiter.Lifting operations began around 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday, and the heavy-duty crane turned Atlantis upright about a half-hour later.The 100-ton shuttle was raised high into the massive assembly building overnight and lowered next to three attach points on the external tank Wednesday morning. After Atlantis is firmly bolted and wired to the fuel tank, workers will transport the shuttle stack to launch pad 39A on April 20.Atlantis is scheduled to launch May 14 with a cache of supplies and a Russian module for the International Space Station.The rollover and lift operations occurred exactly 25 years after Atlantis first arrived at the Kennedy Space Center after a cross-country trip from the shuttle factory in Palmdale, Calif. Atlantis is being prepared for its 32nd and final scheduled mission.Photo credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowPhoto credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight Now | | | | 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.How does NASA train pilots to land the space shuttle?SPACEFLIGHT NOWPosted: May 25, 2010Landing the space shuttle is the pinnacle of the piloting profession.Commanders go to great lengths to practice for their five minutes of glory, when astronauts take over manual control of the unpowered shuttle and perform a one-shot approach and landing with a dead stick.The shuttle closes in on the runway on a glideslope seven times steeper than a commercial airliner. Its sink rate is about 20 times higher than a typical jet during final approach, according to NASA.Discovery glides to landing in Florida on April 20. Credit: NASAReturning shuttles touch down on the runway between 225 mph and 235 mph, about 50 percent faster than most passenger jets.That takes some getting used to, even for the most seasoned military aviators. There are no second chances and commanders have no room for error.A complicating factor in the landing equation is the adjustment of astronauts' bodies back to gravity. Crews returning from orbit have been in weightlessness for up to two weeks."You're coming back and you're not adapted to the gravity field," said Air Force Col. Jim Dutton, the pilot of Discovery's most recent mission in April. "You compensate for how your body is going to feel, which we can't emulate in a simulator, by just overtraining the task to where it's absolute second nature."Tom Marshburn, a mission specialist on an Endeavour mission last year, said returning crews can't miss the unfamiliar tug of gravity."It felt like a lot more than it was indicating on the meter," Marshburn said after his mission.The manual phase of landing also comes just after a fiery hot re-entry that dazzles the senses. Pink and orange hues of plasma engulf the shuttle as it plunges back into the atmosphere traveling 25 times the speed of sound."The windows were full of bright pink from the plasma," Dutton said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. "And then all of a sudden, we were in a right turn. I was fortunate enough to be on the side looking out to the ground. It was over Wyoming, and there were the Rockies right there with snow-capped mountains."Marshburn had a similar experience during re-entry over Central America."It's a wonderful thing to really get a feeling for the speed of the orbiter," Marshburn said after returning from a mission last summer. "You're at a very high Mach speed. You see the clouds just whipping by as you're coming over the top of them. You pass over Central America, then Cuba, then suddenly you're over Florida."When the shuttle Atlantis glides home Wednesday, it will likely close out a quarter-century of record-setting exploration. The shuttle will have flown more than 120 million miles during 32 missions.Navy Capt. Ken Ham, a first-time shuttle commander, will be at the controls of Atlantis during the landing, which is scheduled for 8:48 a.m. EDT at the Kennedy Space Center.Atlantis will be prepared for a contingency rescue flight for one of the final two shuttle missions, but the storied spaceship is not scheduled to launch again."Hopefully, our [commander] will have a flawless landing and won't dictate that it's Atlantis' last flight," said Tony Antonelli, the shuttle's pilot. "We'll let the program managers decide if she's going to fly again."Antonelli will be responsible for giving the commander verbal cues during the approach, lowering Atlantis' landing gear, and deploying the shuttle's drag chute.Atlantis commander Ken Ham (left) and an instructor pilot inside a Shuttle Training Aircraft. Credit: NASAAlthough the landing will be the first under the control of Ham, all shuttle commanders and pilots receive extensive training in ground simulators and the Shuttle Training Aircraft, or STA, a modified Gulfstream business jet designed to fly like the orbiter.Before being certified for flight, shuttle commanders must complete 1,000 sorties in the Gulfstream jet. Pilots are required to fly 500 dives in the trainer.Shuttle commanders say the Gulfstream STA is the best training tool in their inventory."The shuttle flies very nicely," said Rick Sturckow, a two-time shuttle commander. "Our simulators and our Shuttle Training Aircraft prepare us very well for this task of landing the space shuttle."The trainers have been used by crews since the early days of the shuttle program.Steve Nagel, a four-time shuttle flier in the 1980s and 1990s, is now an STA instructor pilot for NASA."It flies the same trajectory the shuttle would from 35,000 feet down to a simulated landing, and it has the same response and handling qualities as the shuttle," Nagel said. "These things have paid for themselves many times over, in my opinion, over the course of the shuttle program because it is such an authentic simulation."STS-131 pilot Jim Dotton (left) and commander Alan Poindexter (right) after landing of Discovery in April. Credit: NASADutton, a former pilot of F-15, F-16 and F-22 fighers, said the similarities between the STA and the real thing are striking, even in the heat of the moment during a shuttle landing."Our commander, Alan Poindexter, even as we were rolling in on final, he said out loud 'it flies just like the STA,'" Dutton said. "He was marveling at how much if felt just like that shuttle trainer."Although Poindexter was in charge of Discovery's landing last month, Dutton took the stick for about 30 seconds as the 100-ton spaceplane circled over the Florida coast to line up with the shuttle runway."The guidance wanted a correction up, and a little bit of a roll correction, so I got to feel how it rolled and how it pitched," Dutton said. "It was very responsive, very much like a fighter, not a heavy aircraft. In terms of flying around the turn like that in an F-22 or an F-15, it felt just like it."NASA has four modified Gulfstreams, and each aircraft features a replica of the shuttle's controls on the left side of the cockpit. The right side of the STA cockpit is set up like a conventional Gulfstream.Engineers lower the jet's landing gear and activate its engine thrust reversers during each training dive to recreate the drag of the space shuttle orbiter."The visual scene is perfect because it's real," Nagel said in an interview package for NASA TV. "You fly through the real weather conditions and the real winds. By the time a commander has about 1,000 approaches in one of these airplanes, not to mention how many approaches that person has on the ground simulators...they're well prepared to land the shuttle."Astronauts use the Shuttle Motion Simulator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to train for malfunctions and aborts during launch and landing. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight NowNASA trains shuttle pilots on the ground inside motion simulators in Houston and at the Ames Research Center in California. The simulators help prepare crews for malfunctions and aborts that could occur during launch, entry and landing."NASA took a multi-pronged approach to training a landing," Dutton said. "You could try and wrap everything into one simulator, but that's pretty hard." The final planned flight of space shuttle Atlantis is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-132. Available in our store! Additional coverage for subscribers:VIDEO:FLIGHT DAY 12 HIGHLIGHTS MOVIE VIDEO:CREW'S HOME MOVIES FOR FLIGHT DAY 12 VIDEO:COLBERT REPORT, ABC AND CLEVELAND INTERVIEWS VIDEO:TUESDAY'S MISSION STATUS BRIEFING VIDEO:AMAZING VIEW OF THE MOON AND ATLANTIS VIDEO:AEROSURFACES CHECKED OUT FOR LANDING HIGH DEFINITION TV DAY 11:GAZING DOWN AT PLANET EARTH VIDEO:FLIGHT DAY 11 HIGHLIGHTS MOVIE VIDEO:CREW'S HOME MOVIES FOR FLIGHT DAY 11 VIDEO:STUNNING ORBITAL OVER FLORIDA VIDEO:LEAD FLIGHT DIRECTOR CALLS THE CREW VIDEO:UPDATE FROM MISSION MANAGEMENT TEAM VIDEO:MONDAY'S MISSION STATUS BRIEFING VIDEO:PREVIEW OF FLIGHT DAY 11 ACTIVITIES VIDEO:FLIGHT DAY 10 HIGHLIGHTS MOVIE VIDEO:SUNDAY'S MISSION STATUS BRIEFING VIDEO:ATLANTIS FLIES UNDERNEATH THE COMPLEX VIDEO:SHUTTLE BEGINS FLYAROUND OF THE STATION VIDEO:ATLANTIS UNDOCKS FROM INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION VIDEO:SHUTTLE ASTRONAUTS BID FAREWELL TO STATION CRE