Space Shuttle Atlantis Concludes Final Mission with Perfect Landing
Atlantis launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 11:29 am EDT on Friday July 8 to begin its final mission to the International Space Station. With its four-astronaut crew, Atlantis concluded the program’s 135th mission and ended a 13-day journey of more than five million miles when it landed at 5:57 a.m. EDT at the Kennedy Space Center. It was the 26th night landing (20th night and 78th total landings at Kennedy) and the 133rd landing in shuttle history. It also coincided with the 50th anniversary of America’s second spaceflight, Mercury-Redstone 4.
STS-135 was the 135th shuttle mission, Atlantis‘ 33rd flight, and the last scheduled flight of the Space Shuttle Program which began with STS-1 in April 12, 1981 with the launch of the space shuttle Columbia. Since then, 355 individuals from 16 countries flew 852 times aboard Atlantis. The five shuttles traveled more than 542 million miles and hosted more than 2,000 experiments in a variety of sectors, including Earth, astronomy, biology and materials sciences.
In total, the shuttles docked with two space stations, the Russian Mir and the International Space Station. Shuttles deployed 180 payloads, including satellites, returned 52 from space and retrieved, repaired and redeployed seven spacecraft.
“The brave astronauts of STS-135 are emblematic of the shuttle program – skilled professionals from diverse backgrounds who propelled America to continued leadership in space with the shuttle’s many successes,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “This final shuttle flight marks the end of an era, but today, we recommit ourselves to continuing human spaceflight and taking the necessary – and difficult – steps to ensure America’s leadership in human spaceflight for years to come,” he added.
During the final STS-135 mission, the four crew members delivered more than 9,400 pounds of spare parts, spare equipment and other supplies in the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module – including 2,677 pounds of food – that will sustain space station operations for the next year. In addition, the 21-foot long, 15-foot diameter Raffaello brought back nearly 5,700 pounds of unneeded materials from the station.
“Although we got to take the ride,” said Commander Chris Ferguson on behalf of his crew,” we sure hope that everybody who has ever worked on, or touched, or looked at, or envied or admired a space shuttle was able to take just a little part of the journey with us.”
Last week, NASA decided to extend the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis by one day in order to unpack items brought to the ISS, as it was initially scheduled for 12 days. This allowed the crew members to leave the ISS in better shape. The STS-135 crew consisted of Commander Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.
After the end of the Space Shuttle Program, NASA will put its focus on deep space missions with the to-be-built, heavy-lift Space Launch System which will carry its astronauts out of low Earth orbit. Future missions will include an unmanned mission to an asteroid in 2016 and eventually to Mars.