In the twilight of morning, the space shuttle Atlantis landed down at the Kennedy Space Center and officially ended the space shuttle program.
The crew of the STS-135 were the final astronauts to fly into space as part of the space shuttle mission ending a memorable, active 30 years. The final four astronauts as NASA officials are calling them were greeted by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and a flock of space shuttle program participants.
Although we got to take the ride 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, Commander Chris Ferguson said.
Along with Ferguson, STS-135 consisted of Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.
This crew completed a 12-day mission to 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 - to the International Space Station. These supplies will sustain the I.S.S. for an entire year.
The numbers on the space shuttle program are impressive, at least on paper. Over the course of 30 years, 355 individuals from 16 countries flew 852 times. The five shuttles traveled more than 542 million miles and hosted more than 2,000 experiments in the fields of Earth, astronomy, biological and materials sciences.
The shuttles deployed 180 payloads, including satellites, returned 52 from space and retrieved, repaired and redeployed seven spacecraft. Shuttles also hosted numerous space firsts including the first woman in space, the first black person, the first teacher, etc.
At today's final landing of the space shuttle, we had the rare opportunity to witness history. We turned the page on a remarkable era and began the next chapter in our nation's extraordinary story of exploration, Bolden said.
However, not everyone will be sad to see the space program go. As the attention of NASA shifts from the space shuttle program to helping launch a private space exploration industry, those like Space Adventures President Tom Shelley think it's time to move on.
With all due respect to the space shuttle program and what it's achieved and the people who made it a success, I think it's held back space developments in the U.S, Shelley said. It's time to move on.
Companies like Shelley's Space Adventures will look to send private citizens into space. Space Adventures has already done his eight times, mostly sub-orbital flights. However, some like Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) chief Elon Musk have larger goals. While NASA is looking to send a man to Mars by the 2030s, Musk says it can happen in 10-20 years.
Meanwhile, Space Adventures is looking to send a man back to the moon as soon as possible.
We've sold one ticket for the mission and we need to sell another to get it going. Once we do, it will be about three years of training but the next person who is even close to the moon will be a private citizen. That's pretty cool, Shelley said.
Follow Gabriel Perna on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna