Atlantis, the fourth orbiter to become operational at Kennedy Space Center, was named after the primary research vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts from 1930 to ... 1966. The spaceship Atlantis has carried on the spirit of the sailing vessel with several important voyages of its own, including the Galileo planetary explorer mission in 1989 and the deployment of the Arthur Holley Compton Gamma Ray Observatory in 1991.
Atlantis benefited from lessons learned in the construction and testing of Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger. At rollout, its weight was some 6,974 pounds less than Columbia. The Experience gained during the Orbiter assembly process also enabled Atlantis to be completed with a 49.5 percent reduction in man hours (compared to Columbia). Much of this decrease can be attributed to the greater use of thermal protection blankets on the upper orbiter body instead of tiles. During the construction of Discovery and Atlantis, NASA opted to have the various contractors manufacture a set of 'structural spares' to facilitate the repair of an Orbiter if one was damaged during an accident. This contract was valued at 踥 million and consisted of a spare aft-fuselage, mid-fuselage, forward fuselage halves, vertical tail and rudder, wings, elevons and a body flap. These spares were later assembled into the orbiter Endeavour. Atlantis was shipped to California to undergo upgrades and modifications. These modifications include a drag chute, new plumbing lines that configure the orbiter for extended duration, more than 800 new heat protection tiles and blankets and new insulation for the main landing gear.
[Summary provided by NASA]