Crowd welcomes home, thanks final shuttle crew

Jul 23, 2011 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer
NASA astronaut Rex Walheim signs an autograph at the welcome home ceremony for the astronauts of the final shuttle mission Friday, July 22, 2011, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

(AP) -- It may have been the final big official event of the last space shuttle mission, but a welcome-home and thank-you party for the crew of Atlantis Friday wasn't dwelling on any sad ending.

Despite pending layoffs and triple-digit temperatures, it was a hopeful attitude that filled an airplane hangar with no air conditioning for the traditional welcome home for the shuttle crew. What wasn't traditional was the size of the crowd - in the thousands - and that this was the last shuttle crew, a team that calls themselves The Final Four. But no one talked of an end of exploring space, rather that it was the start of something new.

"This is living proof that the dream is still alive and will remain alive in this little period of lay off," Atlantis Commander Christopher Ferguson told a cheering, flag-waving crowd of thousands.

Speaking in front of a 15-foot tall American flag, Atlantis astronaut Rex Walheim agreed.

"This is a celebration," Walheim said, telling people not to concentrate on the end of space shuttle flights "but smile because it happened. We're going to have another program coming down the line that we're going to be just as proud of."

Eleven-year-old Brandon Pitts is counting on it.

"I always wanted to be an astronaut," he said, while straining against a rope line. He clutched an Atlantis jigsaw puzzle, trying to get a good view.

Some people may have lost interest in space, but once NASA starts and stays focused on its next big mission, that attention will return, Ferguson said.

"If we build it, they will come," Ferguson said.

The decision to cease was made seven years ago, barely a year after the Columbia tragedy. President nixed President George W. Bush's lunar goals, however, opting instead for astronaut expeditions to an asteroid and Mars.

Last-ditch appeals to keep shuttles flying by such NASA legends as Apollo 11's and Mission Control founder Christopher Kraft landed flat. NASA is retiring the shuttles, according to the program manager, so it can get out of low-Earth orbit and get to points beyond. The first stop under Obama's plan is an asteroid by 2025; next comes Mars in the mid-2030s.

They came by the thousands to Houston's Ellington Field to see the crew, get autographs and space memorabilia. The crowd mobbed the crew - including pilot Douglas Hurley and Sandra Magnus - who were tired from their 13-day flight to resupply the International Space Station, so officials had to ask them to step back a bit in the push for autographs.

Justin Tesno, 10, came out of the throng with Ferguson's autograph on his hand-held fan, saying "It was worth it."

The event was also a pep rally for the city of Houston, which houses Mission Control at Johnson Space Center. Ferguson said "Houston has taken it on the chin a little bit," and unveiled a thank you poster that flew on that final mission.

The poster said: "Houston. Always the first word in space. Thank you!"

But this wasn't just a Houston thank you.

Teresa Santana and her family were on vacation from Mexico, and decided they had to come to the Atlantis welcome-home party. She didn't think this was near the end of Americans in .

"It's historic," Santana said, adding: "They're going to keep working on more."

Explore further: Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

More information: NASA's Johnson Space Center: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/index.html

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Last space shuttle aims for Thursday landing (Update)

Jul 20, 2011

(AP) -- On the eve of NASA's historic, wheel-stopping end to the shuttle program, the four astronauts making the final journey and the flight controllers who will guide them home said Wednesday they're starting ...

Last space shuttle crew bids historic goodbye

Jul 18, 2011

(AP) -- The astronauts on NASA's final shuttle voyage floated out of the International Space Station for the last time Monday, leaving behind a historic U.S. flag and a commemorative shuttle model to mark ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

6 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

7 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

7 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

89118a
3 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2011
I thank you NASA and it's people. I wish you didn't vote for Reagan and Bushes though. So now enjoy your tax cut, abortion free unemployment.

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...