Space shuttle Atlantis embarks on the final flight of NASA's shuttle program, STS-135, a 13-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Atlantis is crewed by four astronauts: commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.
Atlantis is loaded with the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station and its crew.
Wheels stop: Atlantis lands on final shuttle flight
"Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, it's place in history secured, the space shuttle pulls into port for the last time, its voyage at an end."
— NASA mission commentator Rob Navias
The world's greatest flying machine has flown its last flight.
Space shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida early Thursday morning, making the 135th and last landing of NASA's 30-year shuttle program.
STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson piloted Atlantis to a safe arrival at 5:57:00 a.m. EDT (1057 GMT) on Runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.
"Mission complete, Houston," Ferguson said as Atlantis rolled to a stop. "After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It's come to a final stop."
"We copy your wheels stopped," capcom Barry "Butch" Wilmore replied from Mission Control. "We will take this opportunity to congratulate you, Atlantis, as well as the thousands of passionate individuals across this great spacefaring nation who truly empower this incredible spacecraft, which for three decades has inspired millions around the globe. Job well done."
"The space shuttle has changed the way we view the world," Ferguson said, "and it's changed the way we view our universe. There are a lot of emotions today, but one things indisputable: America's not going to stop exploring."
"Thank you Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and our ship, Atlantis. Thank you for protecting us and bringing this program to such a fitting end," concluded Ferguson. "God bless all of you, God bless the United States of America."
Atlantis' main gear touched down at 5:57:00 a.m. EDT, followed by the nose gear at 5:57:20 and wheels stop at 5:57:54 a.m.
Returning with Ferguson were pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim — NASA's first four person crew since the sixth space shuttle mission, STS-6, in 1983.
Their landing saw the culmination of Atlantis' 13-day STS-135 mission, which restocked the International Space Station (ISS) with 9,403 pounds of spare equipment and other supplies from the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, including 2,677 pounds of food that will sustain space station operations for the next year. Raffaello was then repacked with 5,700 pounds of unneeded materials from the ISS that were brought back to Earth aboard Atlantis.
STS-135 completed 200 trips around the Earth in the course of 12 days, 18 hours and 27 minutes while logging 5,284,862 miles.
This was the 78th shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center and the 19th to land there during the night.
STS-135 marked the final flight for Atlantis, also referred to by its orbiter designation OV-104. The fourth of NASA's five space shuttle orbiters to fly, Atlantis has logged 307 days in space over the course of 4,848 orbits travelling 125,935,769 miles.
For 30 years, the space shuttle traveled 542,398,878 miles and 21,152 orbits of the planet on 135 missions, carrying 355 humans and 3.5 million pounds of payloads on the United States' Space Transportation System.
Space shuttle Atlantis touches down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Space shuttle Atlantis, flying Mach 25 over the South Pacific Ocean with its nose tipped up and its wings level, encountered the first traces of the Earth's atmosphere, known as "entry interface," at 5:25 a.m. EDT at an altitude of 400,000 feet while still 5,000 miles from the Kennedy Space Center.
Commander Chris Ferguson fired Atlantis' orbital maneuvering engines at 4:49:04 a.m. EDT for three minutes and 16 seconds, slowing the orbiter's velocity by about 226 miles per hour (331 fps), starting his and his three crewmates' return to Earth.
"Good burn, no trim required," reported capcom Barry "Butch" Wilmore.
"Those engines worked beautifully, up to the very end," Ferguson said, referring to the shuttle's twin orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines.
Atlantis is on its way from its final mission, a 13-day flight to restock the International Space Station with a year's worth of supplies.
Landing on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida is set for 5:56 a.m. EDT.
Atlantis, flying the final space shuttle mission, will be returning today to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Flight controllers gave STS-135 mission commander Chris Ferguson the word that he had a "go" to perform the deorbit burn that will initiate the Atlantis' 33rd and final journey back into the Earth's atmosphere.
"Everything is looking fantastic therefore you are go for the deorbit burn," radioed capcom Barry "Butch" Wilmore to Atlantis' crew.
Ferguson will fire Atlantis' orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines at 4:49:04 a.m. EDT, setting up a 5:56 a.m. landing on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
Space shuttle Atlantis' two 60-foot payload bay doors were closed at 1:17 a.m. CDT and STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and flight engineer Rex Walheim began changing over the shuttle's flight controls from OPS-2, the software used they used for on-orbit operations, to OPS-3, used for reentry and landing, about five minutes later.
The preparations are leading up to Atlantis performing its deorbit burn at 4:49 a.m. EDT, setting up a 5:56 a.m. touchdown on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility.
Weather remains observed and forecast "go" for landing.
Each day that the final space shuttle mission is in flight, collectSPACE plans to highlight milestones and events from the space shuttle's history that also occurred on the same day over the past three decades. "Today in Space Shuttle History" will also note "lasts" being set by the STS-135 mission.
STS-135 Flight Day 14, July 21
1978 The first space shuttle orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engine is test fired at the White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Mounted in two "pods" located on either side of the shuttle orbiter's vertical stabilizer, or tail, the OMS engines are used to insert the shuttle into orbit, to adjust its orbit once there, and to bring the vehicle out of orbit at the end of each mission.
2001 Space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station (at 11:54 p.m. CDT) ending more than eight days of docked operations during the STS-104 mission.
2011 Atlantis returns home to Earth and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, culminating its 33rd and final mission, STS-135, and the last flight of the space shuttle program.
The final day of the final space shuttle mission began at 8:29 p.m. CDT with an iconic final wakeup song.
Kate Smith's rendition of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" was played by Mission Control in Houston to wake commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. But unlike most wakeup songs, which are played in honor of a particular crew member, this one was dedicated to not only the entire crew, but also all "the men and women who put their heart and soul into the shuttle program for all these years," as capcom Shannon Lucid told the crew.
Ferguson said it was an appropriate song for their last day in space.
"Thank you, America, for supporting this program," said Ferguson. "We'll see you on the ground here in a few short hours, hopefully."
Preparations are now underway for space shuttle Atlantis' 33rd and final landing, scheduled for 5:56 a.m. EDT, just before dawn in Florida. The teams on the ground will spend the intervening time taking a close look at weather conditions at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which are forecast to be favorable, before giving the crew a go or no-go to perform a deorbit burn at 4:49 a.m. EDT to put Atlantis on the path home.
If, for any reason, the first opportunity can't be taken, a second chance would allow Atlantis to land in Florida at 7:32 a.m. EDT. To make that touchdown time, the crew would perform a deorbit burn at 6:25 a.m. EDT. Additional opportunities are also available on Friday morning.
Assuming Atlantis does land on its first opportunity today, it'll be the 19th night landing at Kennedy Space Center, and the 78th landing there at any time of the day. There have been 54 landings at Edwards Air Force Base in California over the course of the space shuttle program, and one at the White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico, for a total — including today's scheduled landing — of 133 space shuttle landings in 30 years.
STS-135 is the 135th and final space shuttle mission and the 33rd flight of Atlantis.
The two solid rocket boosters launching Atlantis' STS-135 mission were assembled from segments flown on 59 earlier space shuttle missions, including STS-1, the space shuttle's maiden mission.
Atlantis' three space shuttle main engines have flown on 27 prior flights, including the orbiter's "first last flight," STS-132.
The STS-135 astronauts are the first four member space shuttle crew since STS-6 in April 1983.
355 individuals will have flown 852 times on 135 shuttle missions since STS-1 launched on April 12, 1981.
Sixteen countries have been represented on the shuttle missions: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States.
The five orbiters have flown 537,114,016 miles. STS-135 will add more than four million miles to the total.
More than 2,000 experiments have been conducted on the space shuttles in the fields of Earth, biological and materials sciences and astronomy.
Raffaello, the multipurpose logistics module flying on Atlantis, has been flown in space only three times before (STS-100, STS-108, and STS-114). STS-135 is the first time Atlantis has launched one of the MPLMs.
The shuttles have docked to two orbiting space stations: Between 1994 and 1998, nine missions flew to Russia's Mir. With STS-135, 37 missions will have flown to the International Space Station.
Shuttles have landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida 77 times; Edwards Air Force Base in California 54 times, and at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico once.