Space Shuttle Atlantis Lands to End the 30 Year NASA Program
Space shuttle Atlantis landed at Cape Canaveral in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday, ending the 30-year NASA program.
The shuttle fleet has kept U.S. astronauts flying to a from orbit longer than any other rocketship.
During their 13-day mission Atlantis delivered a year's worth of supplies to the International Space Station. The payload included 2,677 pounds of food and 9,400 pounds of spare parts. On the return trip, Atlantis carried nearly 5,700 pounds of unneeded material from the station back to Earth. (That's what I call taking out the trash)
This was the 37th shuttle mission, over more than 12 years, dedicated to building and maintaining the space station which is now the largest structure ever to orbit the planet.
All together, shuttles spent 276 days, almost 40 weeks, docked to the station. The orbiting complex now has a total of 13 rooms including multiple science labs.
NASA and it's international partners intend to keep the space station running until at least 2020.
Before leaving, the Atlantis crew gave a small U.S. flag to their station colleagues that flew on the inaugural shuttle voyage in 1981. That flag will be the prize for the first rocket maker that brings Americans back to the station, launching from the United States.
President Barack Obama described it last week as "a capture-the-flag moment here for commercial spaceflight."
Obama wants private companies to take over Earth-to-orbit operations so NASA can concentrate on sending astronauts elsewhere.
Their goals are to land on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars by the mid-2030's.
Now safely back on Earth, Atlantis will join Discovery, Endeavour and Enterprise in retirement as museum displays.
Atlantis will remain on display at the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida.
Discovery is headed to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
Endeavour will end up in Los Angeles at the California Science Center.
Enterprise will be moved to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.