Today marks the end of an era. Three decades of missions came to a close this morning as the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida after a 13-day trip to the International Space Station. All told, the 135 space shuttle missions have racked up more than 542 million miles in low earth orbit. Commander Chris Ferguson piloted the Atlantis to a safe landing at 5:52 a.m., and the spacecraft will soon undergo processing and decommissioning. It has been an emotional experience for residents and workers along Florida's Space Coast -- some 9,000 shuttle engineers, technicians, and other staff are being laid off, and the main tourism draw for the area has come to an end. Shown here, for one last time, is a look at a full shuttle mission, STS-135, the final flight of Atlantis. Also, be sure to see The History of the Space Shuttle, an earlier entry on In Focus. [39 photos]
NASA astronaut Doug Hurley waits in a pressure chamber before a test of his Sokol space suit at the Zvezda facility on Wednesday, March 30, 2011, in Moscow. The crew of the final shuttle mission traveled to Moscow for a suit fit check of their Russian Soyuz suits that will be required in the event of an emergency.
(NASA/Houston Chronicle) #
The STS-135 crew practices rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station in the Systems Engineering Simulator at the Johnson Space Center at the Johnson Space Center on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, in Houston, Texas. Commander Chris Ferguson is at back left, mission specialist Rex Walheim is at back right. Pilot Doug Hurley is at center.
(NASA/Houston Chronicle) #
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Space Shuttle Program's final solid rocket booster assembly is stationed in the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The right and left forward assemblies, which were refurbished and processed at Kennedy, are comprised of three components -- nose cap, frustum and forward skirt. Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, the boosters will be stacked and then joined to an external fuel tank and space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-135 mission to the International Space Station.
(NASA/Frank Michaux) #
Bathed in xenon lights, space shuttle Atlantis embarks on its final journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It took the crawler-transporter about six hours to carry the shuttle, attached to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters, to the seaside launch pad. (NASA/Kim Shiflett) #
Chris Bray and his father were able to attend the very first Space Shuttle launch in 1981 (left), when he was 13 years old. Some thirty years later, the two were able to attend the final launch as well, and recreated the original image. Bray uploaded this pair of photos to Flickr last week, and it quickly went viral, touching the hearts of thousands around the world. Original here.
(CC-BY-NC-ND Chris Bray) #
Entry flight director Tony Ceccacci (left) reaches over a console for a congratulatory hand shake with NASA managers Norm Knight (right) and John McCullough after the successful launch of NASA space shuttle Atlantis at Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center July 08, 2011 in Houston, Texas.
(Bill Stafford/NASA via Getty Images) #
One of the four STS-135 crewmembers took this photo from space shuttle Atlantis' aft flight deck during the mission's second day of activities in Earth orbit. Earth's horizon and aft sections of the shuttle frame the orbiter boom sensor system (OBSS) on the starboard side of the spacecraft shortly before it was remotely maneuvered into position to start survey of the spacecraft's thermal protection system (TPS).
The Great Salt Lake in Utah serves as a striking visual marker for the STS-135 astronauts orbiting over North America in the space shuttle Atlantis on July 9, 2011. A sharp line across the lake's center is caused by the restriction in water flow from the railroad causeway. The eye-catching colors of the lake stem from the fact that Great Salt Lake is hypersaline, typically 3-5 times saltier than the ocean.
The small object at left is the International Space Station, which would appear as the only recognizable object in this dark image if it were not for the moon in the upper right. The photo was taken by one of the four crewmembers aboard the space shuttle Atlantis as it and the station gradually approached each other for a docking on July 10, 2011.
This is one of a series of images showing various parts of the space shuttle Atlantis in Earth orbit as photographed by one of three crew members -- half the station crew -- who were equipped with still cameras for this purpose on the International Space Station as the shuttle "posed" for photos and visual surveys and performed a back-flip for the rendezvous pitch maneuver (RPM).
This image, photographed by NASA astronaut Ron Garan during the spacewalk conducted on July 12, 2011, shows the International Space Station with space shuttle Atlantis docked at right and a Russian Soyuz docked to Pirs, below the sun at far left. In the center foreground is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment installed during the STS-134 mission. AMS is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector designed to use the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe and lead to the understanding of the universe's origin by searching for antimatter and dark matter, and measuring cosmic rays.
With his feet secured on a restraint on the space station remote manipulator system's robotic arm or Canadarm2, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum holds the Robotics Refueling Mission payload, which was the focus of one of the primary chores accomplished on a six and a half hour spacewalk on July 12. NASA astronauts Fossum and Ron Garan performed the six-hour, 31-minute spacewalk, which represents the final scheduled extravehicular activity during shuttle missions.
This view of the space shuttle Atlantis while still docked with the International Space Station was taken by a crew member aboard the station on the final day of joint activities between the crew members for the STS-135 and Expedition 28 missions, July 18, 2011. Earth's airglow is seen as a thin line above Earth's horizon.