Home At Last: Atlantis Makes Historic Final Landing As Nasa’s 30-Year Shuttle Program Comes To An End – Daily Mail
It’s the end of an era. After three decades of space travel, Nasa’s shuttle program came to a close this morning when Atlantis landed back on Earth.
The space shuttle and its four-member crew touched down as dawn broke at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, one minute behind schedule at 5.57am local time (10.57am BST).
Hundreds of spectators gathered near the runway to welcome Atlantis home – and to bid Nasa’s 30-year space shuttle program goodbye.
Touchdown: Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center one minute behind schedule at 5.57am (10.57am BST) this morning, bringing an end to Nasa’s 30-year space shuttle program
Incoming: Atlantis Commander Chris Ferguson gently steered the 100-ton spaceship high overhead, then nose-dived toward the swamp-surrounded landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center
Final farewell: Hundreds of spectators gathered near the runway to welcome Atlantis home – and to bid Nasa’s space shuttle program goodbye
Atlantis glided home through a clear moonlit sky to complete a 13-day cargo run to the International Space Station.
Commander Chris Ferguson gently steered the 100-ton spaceship high overhead, then nose-dived toward the swamp-surrounded landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center, a few miles from where Atlantis will go on display as a museum piece.
Double sonic booms shattered the predawn silence around the space center, the last time residents will hear the sound of a shuttle coming home.
When Commander Ferguson eased Atlantis onto the runway, he was ending a 5.2million-mile journey and closing a key chapter in human space flight history.
‘Mission complete, Houston,’ he radioed to Mission Control.
Astronaut Barry Wilmore from Mission Control answered back, ‘We’ll take this opportunity to congratulate you Atlantis, as well as the thousands of passionate individuals across this great space-faring nation who truly empowered this incredible spacecraft, which for three decades has inspired millions around the globe.’
Atlantis’ return from the 135th shuttle mission capped a 30-year program that made spaceflight appear routine, despite two fatal accidents that killed 14 astronauts and destroyed two of Nasa’s five spaceships.
Atlantis’ mission was to resupply the International Space Station, ending a 12-year program to build and service the orbital research outpost
Atlantis is the next-to-youngest shuttle. In retirement, it will remain at Kennedy Space Center and be put on display
Back for good: Atlantis glided home through a clear moonlit sky to complete a 13-day cargo run to the International Space Station
Atlantis comes to a standstill on the runway: Private companies will now take over trips to the International Space Station. Nasa’s next stop with astronauts will be an asteroid, then Mars
The last accident investigation board recommended the shuttles be retired after construction was finished on the space station, a $100billion project of 16 nations. That milestone was reached this year.
Details of a follow-on program are still pending, but the overall objective is to build new spaceships that can travel beyond the station’s 250mile orbit and send astronauts to the moon, asteroids and other destinations in deep space.
But with its Constellation program canceled by President Barack Obama due to exorbitant costs, Nasa will for the time-being rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to launch missions to space.
Once at the forefront of orbiter technology, Nasa is increasing looking to private industry to engineer the next generation of spacecraft that will ferry crew and cargo to the International Space Station and beyond.
Among many tributes this week, on Wednesday evening, the Empire State Building in New York lit up in red, white and blue in honor of the space shuttle program.
On the last full day of this last mission, Commander Ferguson told the controllers: ‘I’d love to have each and every one of you to stand up and take a bow, a round of applause.
‘Then there would be no one to applaud and there would be nobody to watching the vehicle… but believe me, our hearts go out to you.’
Homeward bound: An image of the International Space Station that was taken by an Atlantis crew member shortly after the shuttle departed the station on Tuesday
In orbit: Atlantis sits docked with the ISS in this photo taken by astronaut Mike Fossum aboard the space station
Ferguson and his three crewmates then checked their critical flight systems for Thursday’s planned landing in Florida.
Everything worked perfectly. Excellent weather winded up the 135th flight of the space shuttle program.
The astronauts and the flight controllers who will guide them home said Wednesday they were starting to feel a rush of emotions.
‘It’s going to be tough,’ Mr Ferguson said in a series of TV interviews.
‘It’s going to be an emotional moment for a lot of people who have dedicated their lives to the shuttle program for 30 years. But we’re going to try to keep it upbeat.’
Flight director Tony Ceccacci, who was slated to preside over Atlantis’ return to Earth, refrained from publicly sharing his sentiments – until Wednesday.
‘You guys must know that we do have a motto in the Mission Control Center that flight controllers don’t cry, Ceccacci told reporters. ‘So we’re going to make sure we keep that.’
Snap happy: Members of the media set up remote cameras at the north end of the Kennedy Space Center runway in preparation for the return of Atlantis
See you soon: The Atlantis crew wave farewell at the end of the last crew news conference from aboard the shuttle on Wednesday
Atlantis departed the International Space Station on Tuesday, after restocking it with a year’s worth of supplies. Among the shuttle highlights noted Wednesday was the construction of the station, a nearly one million-pound science outpost that took 12.5 years and 37 shuttle flights to build.
Space station astronaut Michael Fossum posted on Twitter a photo of the shuttle docked to the station 250 miles above the blue planet, which he snapped during last week’s spacewalk. He noted in the tweet: “When will such beautiful ship dock again to ISS?”
Nasa already is shifting gears.
It’s working with private companies eager to take over cargo runs and astronaut flights to the space station. The first supply trip is expected to take place by the end of this year. Astronaut trips will take more time to put together, at least three to five years.
The long-term destination is true outer space: sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars the following decade. That’s the plan put forth by President Obama. His predecessor wanted the moon as the prize.
Atlantis departs the ISS on Monday – a space station solar panel can be seen in the foreground
Last lift-off: Hundred of thousands of spectators at Cape Canaveral and tens of millions of TV viewers around the world watched Atlantis blast-off earlier this month
Throughout their 13-day mission and again Wednesday, the Atlantis astronauts stressed the need for a decades-long space exploration plan that does not change with each incoming president.
Ceccacci, whose Mission Control experience dates back to the first shuttle flight in 1981, said it’s ‘tough’ to think about all the experience that will be walking out the door following this mission.
Thousands of lay-offs are looming at the various Nasa centers; about 2,000 shuttle workers at Kennedy alone will get pink slips starting Friday. That’s on top of massive cutbacks already made.
‘We know there’s going to be a rough spot for a while,’ Ceccacci said. ‘But we hope that when we do get a good plan, a good direction, a good mission, that we can come back in here and do what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years for the shuttle and the years before that with Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.’
Atlantis is the last of the shuttles to be retired. It will remain at Kennedy Space Center, eventually going on public display at the visitor complex. Discovery is bound for the Smithsonian Institution in suburban Washington, and Endeavor for the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
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