Space Shuttle Atlantis Has Landed, Ending an Era

BY Jenny Marder  July 21, 2011 at 5:15 AM EDT

Space Shuttle Atlantis and her four-member crew landed just before sunrise this morning, marking the historic final landing of the space shuttle program and closing out the shuttle era’s 30 years of manned spaceflight.

Commander Chris Ferguson controlled the spacecraft as it entered the earth’s atmosphere, traversing over Central America and to the east of the Yucatan Peninsula. It then passed over the Caribbean Sea and near Western Cuba before moving into the Florida airspace over Naples and touching down on the Kennedy Space Center’s three-mile runway.

The shuttle rolled a stop at 5:57 am ET. It was the 135th and final mission of NASA’s shuttle program.

Moments later, NASA tweeted this:


Atlantis landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after 200 orbits around Earth and a journey of 5,284,862 miles on STS-135less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

And then this:


It was the 25th night landing, the 78th landing at Kennedy and the133rd landing in shuttle history.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

We take a look back at the history and milestones of the shuttle era below:

Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station on Tuesday. During its 13-day mission, the shuttle hauled 8,000 pounds — a year’s worth of food and supplies — to the International Space Station, including filter tanks, clothes, water sampling kits, a power unit and laptop computers. The crew also delivered a 650-pound module equipped with tools designed for refueling orbiting satellites.

Judy Woodruff spoke on the day that Atlantis launched with science correspondent Miles O’Brien on shuttle Atlantis, the space community and the legacy of the program. And Ray Suarez discussed NASA’s future and space exploration in the post shuttle era with Miles, former astronaut Mae Jemison and former NASA official Eric Sterner.

Atlantis will soon enter retirement, taking up residence alongside shuttles Endeavour and Discovery in museums around the country. Private companies like Boeing and SpaceX are expected to eventually step in to ferry humans to and from low-earth orbit.

Earlier this month, science correspondent Miles O’Brien reflected back on his near 20-year career covering 41 space shuttle launches in an interview with Hari Sreenivasan. You can also view the shuttle’s launch here.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the number of NASA space shuttle missions.