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From launching probes to ferrying experiment racks to the ISS, the Space Shuttle Atlantis has left quite the legacy on space exploration and scientific research.

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[♪ INTRO].

The Space Shuttle program operated from 1981 to 2011.  During that time, the fleet’s five reusable shuttles flew astronauts to and from space, launched major payloads including the Hubble Space Telescope, and delivered all the parts to create the International Space Station. All the shuttles are responsible for getting a lot of science done, but only one kicked off an era of international cooperation that eventually led to the

ISS: Atlantis. Atlantis was the fourth shuttle to be built, and right from the start it was picked for some pretty neat science missions. In 1989, it launched the Magellan probe, which made the first global map of Venus, and then crash-landed so it could sample the atmosphere.  And later that same year, it launched Galileo, which studied Jupiter and its moons -- our first return to Jupiter since the Voyager missions had imaged Io’s volcanoes and Europa’s stripes.  In 1991, Atlantis launched the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which gave us our first images of high-energy stuff in space -- like pulsars and black holes.  And Atlantis got to carry plenty of on-board science, too.  Spacelab was a project where modules would be attached to space shuttles so astronauts could conduct research in microgravity, and study Earth from space. One such project, the ATLAS-1 mission, flew on Atlantis in 1992, looking at Earth’s atmosphere: its chemistry and fluid dynamics, as well as interactions with solar winds.  While Atlantis was getting on with all this cool science, the USSR, and subsequently Russia, were also doing cool science -- on Mir, the first modular space station.  The space stations before Mir were one solid structure launched into space -- meaning they were pretty small, and couldn’t be expanded or upgraded easily.

But a modular design meant Mir could be built in stages, with new science modules added in later, or even rearranged -- making the whole process of doing science in space way more flexible.  Mir’s first module went up in 1986, and in the following years, more modules were added.  The ISS, which was conceived as an international successor to Mir, was designed the same way. So, to ramp up to building the ISS, NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos decided to work together on Mir, starting in 1994. This process happened in small stages.   On one of these missions, an astronaut was sent up with the usual cosmonaut crew, and together they prepared Mir to dock with Atlantis.  Part of this involved the shuffling around of the modules that made up Mir, to accommodate the arrival of Atlantis.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, engineers were retrofitting Atlantis with a new docking apparatus, so that it could be attached to Mir once it was maneuvered into place.

But this meant that NASA engineers were working to meet pre-existing Russian tech, and Roscosmos used the metric system, like every other space agency in the world.  Except, of course, for NASA, which was still using the US customary system -- you know, inches and pounds. But with Atlantis’ new docking apparatus, NASA entered the 20th century and graduated to base-10. Progress!

So Mir was ready for Atlantis, and Atlantis was ready for Mir. And on June 29, 1995, the two finally got to meet -- and set the stage for some awesome science.  The research that took place on Mir laid the foundations for a lot of the stuff we’re still studying on the ISS today, including human and plant biology in microgravity, and the local space environment.  But the whole Shuttle-Mir project was really an experiment to understand how to build and manage the ISS. Mir was almost a decade old at this point, running in part on mid-eighties technology, and had been in space twice as long as planned.  So by the time Atlantis docked with it, Mir was showing its age.  Plastics were degrading, contaminating the atmosphere.

There were periodic power outages and computer problems. And in 1997 there was even a small fire.  But with characteristic resourcefulness, NASA was able to turn all of these mishaps into lessons for the future.  As a result, the ISS has everything from better air scrubbers to more efficient fire prevention. So after incorporating everything learned from Shuttle-Mir, the first ISS module, called.

Unity, was ready to launch in 1998.  And although Unity was launched by the shuttle Discovery, Atlantis got to launch the lab. The Destiny module is where most of the US-led science takes place, mostly in experiment racks. These are basically science drawers -- mini-labs providing isolated environments for all kinds of cool projects.  There’s the Materials Science Research Rack, where crystals are grown, alloys are formed, and semiconductors are tested in microgravity.  And there’s the Combustion Integrated Rack, which is a safe way to have and study fires in space.  Plus, there’s the awesome window called the Window Observational Research Facility -- or WORF, because NASA has never passed up an opportunity to make a Star Trek reference.

It’s designed to have no glare, and astronauts use it to study surface processes like erosion, to do remote spectroscopy, and to wave at their families when they pass over their houses. And just think. All this science started happening when Atlantis kicked off this era of international cooperation.  When the Shuttle program ended, it was Atlantis that flew the final mission.  And while the other shuttles were split up and sent to museums all over the U.

S., it was Atlantis that was chosen to stay home, at the Kennedy Space Center, just a few miles from its former launch site.  Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space. It’s October now, and hopefully you all know what that means: a brand new Pin of the Month from SciShow Space! Every month we like to celebrate a space craft that has a connection to that month, and, in October, you guessed it, it’s Atlantis.

This pin is available to preorder over at through the end of the month -- at which point it will vanish forever as we replace it with a new pin.  And a great thing about preordering the October pin is that it’s the last pin of the year that you can reliably get before the holidays if you want to give it as a gift.  If you’re interested in having your own Atlantis pin, check out the link in the description. [♪ OUTRO].