Space shuttle Atlantis lands safely, ending shuttle era

21 Jul 2011

The space shuttles are now history. The landing of NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida this morning marks the end of the US space programme’s shuttle missions.

The orbiter and its crew of four – commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandra Magnus – landed on runway 15 in clear and windless weather, at 10.57am Irish time.

“The space shuttle has changed the way we view the world,” Ferguson said moments after landing. “It’s changed the way we view the universe.”

This was Atlantis‘ 33rd mission, and the shuttle programme’s 135th mission. During its 30 years, shuttles delivered the Hubble telescope into orbit and helped build the International Space Station.

Atlantis lifted off on 8 July from the space centre, bound for the International Space Station, where it delivered food and supplies. It has returned packed with rubbish and broken hardware from the space station.

NASA’s space shuttles facts:

  • The five shuttle orbiters – Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – have travelled 537,114,016 miles in orbit.
  • Three hundred and thirty-five astronauts have flown on the space shuttles.
  • Fourteen astronauts died when Columbia and Challenger were lost.

Source: ABC News

NASA will now retire its fleet of orbiters because of high operating costs and the need to free up funds for work on a new launch system that can carry people and cargo beyond the space station’s orbit, where shuttles can’t go.

Atlantis will be bound for the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center, where it will go on public display.

Space shuttles Discovery and Endeavour are to go to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and the California Science Center in Los Angeles, respectively.

Photo: Space shuttle Atlantis lands for the final time at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA TV