Before dawn this morning, Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., officially ending NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.
The final flight of the shuttle program, officially titled STS-135, commenced on July 8 with a crew of four astronauts for a 13-day mission to the International Space Station. They delivered more than 9,400 pounds of spare parts and equipment in the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, including 2,677 pounds of food that will keep the space station fed for the next year. This morning, Atlantis landed at 5:57 a.m. EDT, after 200 orbits around the Earth.
Atlantis was the fourth orbiter built for the shuttle program, and launched for the first time on October 3, 1985. It was preceded by Columbia, Challenger and Discovery and followed by Endeavour. Atlantis has made 33 trips to space during it’s operational run and will be put on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in Florida.
The STS-135 astronauts were Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. A welcome home ceremony for the astronauts will be held on Friday, July 22, in Houston. The public is invited to attend the event at NASA’s Hangar 990 at Ellington Field or watch the ceremony on NASA Television.
As someone who sleeps in a NASA t-shirt and grew up watching the shuttles launch after they began their flights in 1981, I will surely miss them. But this does spell the end for NASA or for American space exploration. NASA will continue working toward landing humans on Mars, as well as furthering research in the field of aeronautics.