CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – The space shuttle program ended today with a final “wheel stop” at NASA’s Shuttle Landing Facility or SLF at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Landing of the final mission, STS-135, occurred at 5:56 a.m. EDT local time.
The successful landing wrapped up not only a 13 day mission, but a program that has defined U.S. space flight efforts for the past three decades. During that length of time the residents of Central Florida have grown to welcome the sounds of double sonic booms, heralding the return of crews from orbit. That era drew to a close Thursday as the final sonic booms thundered across the countryside.
NASA hosted numerous events to mark the end of the shuttle era for both shuttle workers and media alike. One of these allowed journalists to approach Atlantis at the SLF and hear remarks from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana – both former shuttle astronauts.
“The brave astronauts of STS-135 are emblematic of the shuttle program, skilled professionals from diverse backgrounds who propelled America to continued leadership in space with the shuttle’s many successes,” Bolden said. “This final shuttle flight marks the end of an era, but today, we recommit ourselves to continuing human spaceflight and taking the necessary, and difficult, steps to ensure America’s leadership in human spaceflight for years to come.”
The STS-135 mission was a resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew was kept to a minimum, consisting of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.
With the shuttle program finished NASA now lacks the ability to send astronauts to orbit. For the time being the space agency will pay Russia $63 million a seat to have U.S. astronauts fly on Russia’s Soyuz Spacecraft. The comparison has been made to the post-Apollo era but during that period the space shuttle program was on the horizon. NASA has no such program in place now.
Atlantis has spent 307 days in space and traveled nearly 126 million miles during its 33 flights. It launched on its first mission on Oct. 3, 1985.Missions » ISS »