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Shuttle Atlantis' last trek to liftoff

Scott Andrews / for msnbc.com

In one of 120,000 images shot during the time-lapse, NASA's space shuttle Atlantis is hoisted before being mounted with "the stack" before rollout at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

As the sun sets on NASA's spaceflight program, three talented people set out to document the preparations for shuttle Atlantis' final launch.

Armed with 15 cameras, Scott Andrews, his son Philip Andrews and Stan Jirman teamed up to shoot and seamlessly combine a whopping 120,000 still images. The finished product is condensed into a 3-minute time-lapse video that makes the four-day process of preparing the shuttle for its trek to the launch pad look like a cakewalk.

NBC News' Jay Barbree narrates a rare time-lapse video of the shuttle Atlantis being prepared for its final mission.

The time-lapse is the culmination of 40 years of collaboration. Photographer Scott Andrews, a technical consultant for Canon, has been photographing launches and landings professionally since Apollo 15 in July 1971.

Scott Andrews / for msnbc.com

The morning after rollout, NASA's space shuttle Atlantis rests on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Throughout the years he has helped hundreds of photographers from around the world and worked closely with the NASA spaceflight program. Scott said his main mission in creating the time-lapse is to pay tribute to all of the shuttle workers.

Referring to the origins of the time-lapse video, Scott said "Anybody could have done this time lapse — but nobody did."

So Scott sat down and drafted a 47-page proposal and made six trips to the Kennedy Space Center to finally get the "yes" he needed. This all hinged on the trust he had built during his tenure, split between Kennedy and Johnson space centers.

In the end, they produced a tribute to not only the shuttle workers, but also NASA and the spaceflight program as a whole.

Veteran NBC space correspondent Jay Barbree summed it up best: "When historians look back, they will write that the shuttle was a reusable ship that carried astronauts into orbit.  It was an essential brick on the road to distant places beyond our planet."

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