Photo Gallery: Last space shuttle lands: On the runway with Atlantis
July 21, 2011 — The world's greatest flying machine has flown its last 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
Space shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida early Thursday morning, marking 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 a.m. EDT (1057 GMT) on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.
"Mission complete," Ferguson radioed 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."
"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 thing is 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," said Ferguson. "God bless all of you, God bless the United States of America."
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 shuttle 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 station 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 known by its orbiter designation OV-104. The fourth of NASA's five shuttle orbiters to fly, Atlantis has logged 307 days in space over the course of 4,848 orbits travelling 125,935,769 miles.
Over the course of 30 years, the space shuttle traveled 542,398,878 miles and 21,152 orbits of the Earth on 135 missions, carrying 355 humans and 3.5 million pounds of payloads on the United States' Space Transportation System.
Photos: collectSPACE.com / Robert Z. Pearlman
Video credit: NASA Televison
Several hours after Atlantis landed, while it was still being readied to be towed back to its processing facility for post-flight servicing and its eventual display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, NASA invited collectSPACE along with a select group of other media organizations out to the runway to see and photograph the space shuttle up-close.