Shuttle Atlantis coming in for one final landing

Jul 21, 2011 by Jean-Louis Santini
This NASA photo shows the International Space Station taken by Atlantis' STS-135 crew as the shuttle departed the station on July 19. Atlantis has begun its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere ahead of a final homecoming that brings down the curtain on NASA's 30-year space shuttle program.

Atlantis began its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere Thursday ahead of a final homecoming that brings down the curtain on NASA's 30-year space shuttle program.

The shuttle's orbital maneuvering engines fired at 4:49 am (0849 GMT), slowing the shuttle just enough for its fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere as the team neared the end of the historic landing at .

"Atlantis starts the beginning of the end of a journey that started with the aerodynamic testing of a craft called Enterprise in 1977, punctuated by the maiden launch of Columbia in 1981, culminating this morning with a night flight to the Kennedy Space Center," mission control's commentator in Houston said.

NASA meteorologists were forecasting perfect conditions for the shuttle's pre-dawn landing at 5:56 am (0956 GMT). Mission control described a "gorgeous night at the Kennedy Space Center," with clear skies and hardly any wind.

"Sounds pretty promising to me," commander Chris Ferguson told mission control.

Earlier the crew woke to the song "God Bless America," in preparation for the bittersweet end to the storied shuttle career, 42 years after US astronaut became the first person to step foot on the Moon as part of the .

"Forty-two years ago today, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and I consider myself fortunate that I was there to actually remember the event," Ferguson told mission control late Wednesday, recalling the images of July 20, 1969.

"It is kind of interesting to be here on the final night of the shuttle mission. We don't quite know what to think. We are just trying to take it all in."

Factfile and photos of the US space shuttle Atlantis, which left the International Space Station for the final time on Tuesday

Ferguson then read a quote by Apollo-era flight director Gene Kranz, best known for leading mission control's successful effort to save the Apollo 13 astronauts after an oxygen tank exploded on a trip to the Moon.

"I pray that our nation will someday find the courage to accept the risk and challenges to finish the work that we started," the commander said, calling the quote by Kranz, whose hero role was showcased in a 1995 movie starring Tom Hanks as an astronaut and Ed Harris as Kranz, "very appropriate."

The Atlantis landing will end an era of US dominance in human space exploration, leaving Russia as the sole taxi to the International Space Station until a replacement US capsule can be built by private industry.

The four US crew members on STS-135 are wrapping up a successful trip to restock the ISS for a year with several tons of supplies and food.

Over the course of the program, five NASA shuttles -- Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery and Endeavour -- have comprised a fleet designed as the world's first reusable space vehicles.

The first shuttle flight to space lifted off April 12, 1981.

Columbia and Challenger were destroyed in accidents that killed their crews, leaving only three in the space-flying fleet and Enterprise, a prototype that never flew in space. The quartet will become museum pieces in the coming months.

Space shuttle Atlantis blasts off from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, on July 8, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Atlantis has begun its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere ahead of a final homecoming that brings down the curtain on NASA's 30-year space shuttle program.

Critics have assailed the US space agency for lacking a focus with the space shuttle gone and no next-generation human spaceflight program to immediately replace it.

The astronaut corps now numbers 60, compared to the 128 employed in 2000, and thousands of people are being laid off from Kennedy Space Center. But NASA chiefs say future missions to deep space should revive hope in the US program.

"We have just not done a good job of telling our story. NASA is very busy," the agency's administrator Charles Bolden told CNN.

"The president said to us, 2025 for an asteroid and 2030 to Mars. We have a lot of work to do ahead."

NASA is building a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that hopes to reach that goal, while it turns over low-orbit space travel and station servicing to commercial ventures.

A commercial launcher and capsule built by a private corporation in partnership with NASA may be ready to tote crew members as early as 2015.

Until the private sector fills the void left by the shuttle's retirement, the world's astronauts will rely on Russian Soyuz rockets for rides to the ISS.

NASA flight director Tony Ceccacci said his team was just trying to keep emotions at bay and focus on getting the home safely.

"We have a motto in the center that flight controllers don't cry, so we are going to make sure that we keep to that."

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA fends off tears with shuttle end in sight

Jul 20, 2011

NASA astronauts and engineers fought off tears Wednesday as Atlantis made its final approach toward Earth, bringing an end to the 30-year shuttle program and closing a chapter in human spaceflight.

Shuttle Atlantis heads home from space station

Jul 19, 2011

The crew of Atlantis undocked Tuesday from the International Space Station, wrapping up the last visit by a US shuttle to the orbiting outpost and setting its sights on an emotional homecoming.

Shuttle countdown to begin Thursday

Aug 21, 2006

NASA is set to begin the countdown for the Florida launch of the space shuttle Atlantis' mission to the International Space Station at 6 p.m. EDT Thursday.

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

10 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

11 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

11 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 : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (2) Jul 21, 2011
Atlantis began its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere Thursday ahead of a final homecoming that brings down the curtain on NASA's 30-year space shuttle program


Conclusion to "The Week That Changed
The World" [February 21-28, 1972] ? ?

www.pbs.org/wgbh/...xon.html

See also events [1-4] below:

1. Nature 240, 99 (1972)

Data: www.omatumr.com/D...Data.htm

Paper: www.omatumr.com/a...ites.pdf

2. Proc. 3rd Lunar Planetary Science Conf. 2, 1927-1945 (1972)

Data: www.omatumr.com/D...ata1.htm

3. Time Magazine US (24 June 1974)

Report: www.time.com/time...,00.html

4. Newsweek (28 April 1975)

Report: www.denisdutton.c...orld.htm

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
NASA NGR 26-003-057
Waterdog
not rated yet Jul 21, 2011
This is a sad day. The shuttle had its problems, but it was also an incredible machine with capabilities that probably won't be seen again in our lifetimes. The capsules that are being proposed to replace it are tin cans with life support by comparison. We should be building the next more advance version of the shuttle.

Salute, NASA, for a job well done!

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 ...