We're at the end of an era as the space shuttle Atlantis is set to make the final shuttle voyage to the International Space Station this weekend. NASA officials hope the launch will take off on schedule at 11:24 EDT on Friday morning but bad weather may force the launch window to roll over to Sunday.
NASA estimates that over a million people will be trekking to Cape Canaveral to see the launch this weekend--if you don't already have a ticket or are not already in Florida, you're probably out of luck. Up to 750,000 spectators are expected to watch the liftoff from the Space Coast area and the numbers may top one million. Don't worry though. There are still lots of great ways to enjoy the final launch of Atlantis from the comfort and safety of your own tech equipment.
Live Coverage of the Launch
NASA plan to show the launch live online on its NASA TV stream. Live coverage will begin at 8 a.m. EDT Friday--if all goes according to plan. If you're going to be away from a TV at that time, NASA offers iPhone and iPad apps that will stream the launch coverage for you as well as a new Android app announced today.
Alternatively, be on the lookout for up-to-the minute coverage on Twitter by following official NASA twitter feeds. Following on Twitter probably won't be quite as a dynamic experience as the video feed, but both NASA (@NASA) and the Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) have Twitter accounts you can follow. NASA is also hosting 150 contest winners who will get special access to the launch in Florida and who will be live-tweeting from the event. @NASATweetup, and the hashtag is #NASATweetup.
Or you can crowd source your coverage from all the people watching the launch live. Expect a lot of action on launch-related hashtags like #shuttle or #sts135 (STS-135 is the last launch's mission number as this is the 135th, and final, shuttle launch).
If you get really desperate, you might be able to watch the launch the old-fashioned way--on your television set. Many networks are going to be covering the launch live, so check your local listings. Spacevidcast, a weekly webcast on space news, will also be covering the broadcast live in HD on its Roku channel so you can stream it to your set. Or you can just watch NASA TV.
History in the Making
There are more ways to enjoy the launch than just watching it. There are 30 years of space shuttle history to explore. In addition to NASA's own history of the program, plenty other publications are getting into the act. For instance, The Washington Post has both a video and a photo gallery celebrating the full history of the shuttle program
Naturally if you've really got shuttle launch fever, you may want to own a piece of the action and there's plenty of space shuttle merchandise to commemorate the last mission. You can buy everything from official mission patches Identical to the ones worn by the astronauts to a commemorative plate to some, well, questionably designed t-shirts.
No matter how you choose to enjoy this weekend's launch, it's sure to be the end of an era in the history of American space exploration. If you wish, now turn your attention to what's next in the future of space exploration.