It's an amazing scene: A NASA space shuttle rocketinginto space while U.S. Air Force pilots watch from their airborne F-15E StrikeEagle jet fighter. The stunning snapshot was taken May 14 as NASA's shuttle Atlantissoared into orbit on its final scheduled mission.
Air Force Capt. John Peltier took the photograph from aseparate aircraft. In the photo, Lt. Col. Gabriel Green and Capt. ZacharyBartoe patrol the airspace around NASA's Kennedy Space Center in CapeCanaveral, Fla., in the foreground while Atlantis streaks spaceward, leaving awhite exhaust plume in its wake.? [Seemore Atlantis launch photos.]
Green commands the Air Force's 333rd Fighter Squadron andCaptain Bartoe is the squadron's weapons system officer. Both aircrew membersare assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.
Atlantis' STS-132 flight was the shuttle's 32nd and finalplanned mission to space. The 11-day spaceflight delivered a new Russianresearch room and vital spare parts to the International Space Station.? NASAis retiringits three space shuttles (Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour) after just twomore missions.
Discovery, the oldest shuttle in NASA's fleet, is slatedto launch on its final mission to deliver a storage room for the space stationand a robot tenant called Robonaut 2. The final space shuttle mission,Endeavour's STS-134 flight to deliver a $1.5 billion astrophysics experiment tothe space station.
NASA is seeking to delay those finalshuttle missions, to Oct. 29 and Feb. 28, 2011, respectively. A finaldecision on the launch plan is expected in the next few weeks.