Atlantis Lands For The Final Time
After 32 missions, the Space Shuttle Atlantis came home for the final time this morning:
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Gliding into retirement after 32 missions covering 120 million miles, the shuttle Atlantis dropped out of orbit and returned to Earth on Wednesday, wrapping up a storied 25-year career with a near-flawless space station assembly mission.
Taking over manual control 50,000 feet above the Florida spaceport, Capt. Kenneth T. Ham of the Navy, the commander, guided the 105-ton space plane through a sweeping right overhead turn before a steep descent to Runway 33.
Just shy of the runway threshold, Captain Ham pulled the shuttle’s nose up, Cmdr. Dominic A. Antonelli of the Navy, the pilot, deployed the ship’s landing gear and Atlantis swooped to a picture-perfect touchdown at 8:48 a.m. Eastern time.
“Houston, Atlantis, we have wheels stopped,” Captain Ham radioed a few moments later as the shuttle coasted to a stop on the runway centerline.
“For you and your crew, that was a suiting end to an incredible mission. I’m sure the station crew members hated to see you leave, but we’re glad to have you back,” Marine Col. Charles Hobaugh replied from mission control in Houston.
The astronauts, including Captain Ham; Commander Antonelli; Michael T. Good, a flight engineer and retired Air Force colonel; Garrett E. Reisman; Piers J. Sellers; and Capt. Stephen G. Bowen of the Navy, planned to doff their pressure suits and join NASA managers and engineers on the runway for a walk-around inspection before returning to crew quarters.
It was the final planned mission for Atlantis as NASA phases out the shuttle program after three decades and more than 130 flights. Only two more missions are planned, a flight by Discovery in September or October and a final flight by Endeavour late this year or early next.
After which, America’s manned space program will consist of hitching a ride on a Soyuz capsule for at least the next ten years. It’s probably necessary given the budget problems we face, but it’s going to be still a sad sight to see.
Since we won’t get to see this very many more times, here’s NASA’s video of today’s landing: