May 26, 2010

Atlantis Returns Home Ending Final Mission

Space shuttle Atlantis completed its final mission today when it successfully touched down after bringing six astronauts to the International Space Station.

"Twenty-five years, 32 flights and more than 120 million miles traveled. The legacy of Atlantis now in the history books," Mission Control's commentator announced at touchdown.

About 1,200 guests arrived at the Kennedy Space Center runway for the conclusion to NASA's third-to-last shuttle flight.  Employees wore white ribbons with the name "Atlantis" and its picture embossed in gold.

"That was pretty sweet," Mission Control radioed after Atlantis glided through a clear morning sky. "That was a suiting end to an incredible mission."

Commander Kenneth Ham replied that he was ready to turn Atlantis over to the ground teams and get the ship "back in the barn for a little bit."  He and his crew faced a longer receiving line than usual.

Only two shuttles are left in the fleet to perform missions.  Atlantis will remain on standby during Endeavour's final flight, then head off to a museum somewhere once that mission is complete.

Atlantis rocketed towards space on May 14 towards the ISS.  The crew of six installed a new Russian compartment, six fresh batteries and an extra antenna at the ISS.

Atlantis is ending its run after spending 294 days in orbit and circling the Earth 4,648 times.  It has carried 189 astronauts and visited the ISS 11 times. 

The shuttled grabbed another 4.8 million miles this trip, making its total miles over its lifetime 120,650,907.

The residents at the space station managed to catch a glimpse of Atlantis' final re-entry. "Most impressive," observed astronaut Timothy Creamer.

The astronauts flew a small U.S. flag that accompanied Atlantis into orbit as a tribute to their ship.

Space shuttle Discovery is set to perform its final mission in September, while Endeavour's final trip is set for November.

The space station is now 98 percent complete and will lose half of its six-person crew in another week.  Three astronauts will return to Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz on June 2.


Image Caption: Space shuttle Atlantis touches down on Runway 33 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida completing the STS-132 mission to the International Space Station. Main gear touchdown was at 8:48:11 a.m. followed by nose gear touchdown at 8:48:21 a.m. and wheelstop at 8:49:18 a.m. Photo credit: NASA/Carl Winebarger


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