Friday, July 22, 2011

End of an era for US spaceflight as Atlantis lands

Posted by Vishnureddy at 8:36 AM

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Cape Canaveral, Florida,
July 21: The shuttle Atlantis cruised home for a final time Thursday, ending its last mission to the International Space Station and closing a 30-year chapter in American space exploration. The shuttle glided seamlessly to a predawn landing at Kennedy Space Center at 0957 GMT, marking the formal retirement of the shuttle program and leaving Russia as the world’s only taxi to the ISS. “Mission complete, Houston,” shuttle commander Chris Ferguson said as the white orbiter, emblasoned with an American flag, rolled to a stop. Twin sonic booms erupted over Florida moments before the shuttle came home to perfect summer weather with clear skies and hardly any wind at the Kennedy Space Center. About an hour after landing, the astronauts emerged from the spacecraft and greeted Nasa officials and mission managers,exchanging hugs, kisses and smiles. “I just want to salute this crew, welcome them home,and let them know how proud we are of them,” Nasa administrator Charles Bolden said.”It’s been a 30-year journey that has been absolutely incredible,” added Bolden, a former astronaut. “We have been exploring since early in our country’s history, and what Fergie and his crew did this time was kind of close out this era of our exploration.”The  Atlantis crew members, in addition to Ferguson, were mission specialists Rex Walheim, Sandy Magnus and pilot Doug Hurley.The bittersweet end to the storied shuttle career comes 42 years after US astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission. The last shuttle mission, known as STS-135, was a nearly 13-day trip to restock the ISS for a year with several tons of supplies and food. Over the course of the programme, five Nasa shuttles — Atlantis, Challenger,
Columbia, Discovery and Endeavour — have comprised a fleet designed as the world’s first reusable
space vehicles.

On Wednesday, Bolden said the space agency was committed to the goals set out by President Barack
Obama to send humans to an astroid in 2025 and explore Mars by 2030.  Nasa is building a MultiPurpose Crew Vehicle that it hopes will be able to reach that goal, while it turns over low-orbit space travel and space station servicing to commercial ventures.  A commercial launcher and capsule built by a private corporation in partnership with Nasa may be ready to tote crew members
as early as 2015.

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