Atlantis Completes Final Landing of Shuttle Era

Posted July 21st, 2011 at 6:05 am (UTC-5)
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The space shuttle Atlantis has made a perfect landing, bringing an official end to 30 years of U.S. space shuttle missions.

The crew of four astronauts on board Atlantis touched down just before 10:00 UTC at the Kennedy Space Center in the southern state of Florida. Perfect weather conditions and a crowd of hundreds welcomed the shuttle home.

Atlantis' 13-day mission capped off its 33rd and final flight after 26 years in service. The fourth shuttle in NASA's fleet, Atlantis first flew into space in October 1985.

The crew departed from the International Space Station on Tuesday after an eight-day visit to deliver a year's worth of supplies, and haul trash and used equipment back to Earth.

Atlantis, as well as the other remaining shuttles, will be retired from service and put on public display.

Although NASA has long-range plans to use heavy lift rockets to send astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars, the U.S. space agency will have no means of putting people into space for the next several years.

Vehicles that can be used to ferry astronauts to low-earth orbit and the International Space Station are being developed by private companies. But until one of them is ready, NASA will send astronauts up on Russian rockets.