Atlantis home; space shuttle program ends

July 21, 2011 at 7:14 AM
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., July 21 (UPI) -- The space shuttle Atlantis landed for the final time Thursday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, marking the end of the 30-year U.S. space shuttle program.

STS-135 was the 33rd and final flight for the Atlantis vehicle, which spent 307 days in space, orbited Earth 4,848 times and traveled 125,935,769 miles, NASA said in a release.

In its final landing, Atlantis' main gear touched down at 5:57 a.m. EDT, followed by the nose gear at 5:57:20 and wheels stop at 5:57:54 a.m., NASA said. When the spacecraft's wheels stopped, the mission elapsed time was 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes and 50 seconds.

The crew of commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim delivered spare parts, spare equipment and other supplies -- including 2,677 pounds of food -- to the International Space Station, NASA said. Atlantis brought back back nearly 5,700 pounds of unneeded materials from the station.

Since the program launched on April 12, 1981, 355 people from 16 countries have flown 852 times aboard the shuttle. The five shuttles traveled more than 542 million miles and hosted more than 2,000 experiments in Earth science, astronomy, and biological and materials sciences. Among other things, the shuttles docked with two space stations -- the Russian Mir and the International Space Station -- deployed 180 payloads, and retrieved, repaired and redeployed seven spacecraft.

The Atlantis crew began deorbit preparations early Thursday, closing the payload bay doors that Wednesday launched the final shuttle payload -- an 8-pound, 5-inch-by-5-inch-by-10-inch experimental solar-cell satellite called PicoSat. The satellite will relay solar-cell data back for analysis and possible use on future space hardware, NASA said.

Atlantis will be part of a public display at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex in 2013. The complex plans to suspend Atlantis with cargo bay doors opened so it appears back in orbit around a multistory digital projection of Earth in a 64,000-square-foot indoor facility.

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