NASA spacecraft Atlantis has landed successfully on runway 15 of the shuttle landing facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:57 am EDT. The landing marks the end of the space shuttle program.
The space shuttle changed the way we view the world, the way we view the universe, Atlantis Commander Chris Ferguson said soon after landing. America's not going to stop exploring. Thanks for protecting us and bringing this program to a fitting end.
Atlantis, which flew its maiden voyage on October 3, 1985 on the STS-51-J mission, carried a crew of four for its STS-135 mission: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.
The shuttle delivered to the International Space Station the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), which is an experiment designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space, even satellites not designed to be serviced.
The mission also flew the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module filled with supplies and spare parts to sustain the station's operations once the shuttles are retired, during STS-135, which is the last planned space shuttle mission since STS-1.
It is still not known whether the crew has carried back the recently failed ammonia pump module for NASA to better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.
STS-135 has been the 33rd flight of Atlantis, the 37th shuttle mission to the space station, and the 135th and final mission of NASA's Space Shuttle Program.
Some of Atlantis' landmark missions include the last servicing of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and construction missions to the International Space Station.
As of the completion of its 32nd flight, Atlantis has orbited the earth more than 4,648 times and traveling over 120 million miles in space. But as of the completion of STS-135 final mission, Atlantis has travelled more than 125 million miles in space.
Atlantis' next mission will be attracting visitors to the Kennedy Space Center. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the decommission decision at an employee event held on April 12, 2011 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight: First, here at the Kennedy Space Center where every shuttle mission and so many other historic human space flights have originated, we'll showcase my old friend, Atlantis.
The Visitor Complex plans to suspend Atlantis with cargo bay doors opened such that it appears to be back in orbit around the Earth. A multi-story digital projection of the home planet that will rotate behind the orbiter in a 64,000 square-foot indoor facility is also proposed. Ground breaking of the facility is planned to begin in 2012 with the exhibit opening in 2013.