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Space shuttle Atlantis   (Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Atlantis landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 5:57 a.m. EDT

Space shuttle Atlantis made its final landing early this morning, marking a successful mission as well as the end of an era.

NASA has now officially retired its entire Space Shuttle fleet, which consisted of Space shuttle's Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis. Space shuttle Discovery made its final mission in February 2011, Space shuttle Endeavour completed its last jaunt to space in June 2011, and now, Space shuttle Atlantis has returned home to enjoy retirement as well.

Atlantis landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 5:57 a.m. EDT. The 13-day mission to the International Space Station was nearly flawless, with only a few computer glitches that were easily managed. This was Atlantis' 33rd voyage.

While the crew was happy to be home safe, it was also an emotional arrival due to the fact that NASA's Space Shuttle program, which began on April 12, 1981, is now closed after 30 years of service.

"The space shuttle changed the way we viewed the world, and it changed the way we view our universe," said Chris Ferguson, Atlantis' commander. "There's a lot of emotion today, but one thing is indisputable: America is not going to stop exploring. Thank you Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and our ship, Atlantis."

Ferguson led a crew of three, including pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim. Their mission to the International Space Station provided supplies, equipment and food as well as over 9,400 pounds of spare parts and other supplies.

"We're going to put Atlantis in a museum now, along with the three orbiters, for generations that will come after us to admire and appreciate," said Ferguson. "And hopefully, I want that picture of a six-year-old boy looking up at a space shuttle in a museum and saying, 'Daddy, I want to do something like that when I grow up,' or 'I want our country to do fantastic things like this for the continued future."

The retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet means that the U.S. has no way of sending humans into space. Russia is the only means of getting to space for American astronauts at this point.

The curtain has closed on NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, but we haven't stopped looking through our telescopes and asking, "What if?" quite yet. The next step is to travel to an asteroid by 2025, and Mars in 2030.


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RE: Kids say the darndest things
By mcnabney on 7/21/2011 9:58:33 AM , Rating: 2
We had a similar gap between Apollo and STS (most of the 70s).

In fact, we have a space station in orbit (which will be chucked into the ocean in five years, seriously) that isn't really doing much besides 'being there'. We are nowhere near the technology level that it is actually necessary to have humans around to do things in space. The last useful thing an astronaut did in space was the repair-job on the Hubble, but I imagine a robot could have done the job too. It is just too expensive and adds enormous complexity for missions to be able to keep humans alive. We have reached the milestones, we know that we CAN do it, but keeping humans in microgravity isn't needed until we find a much cheaper way to get material into orbit so that we can actually do something 'big'. Right now, satellites, robots, probes, and telescopes are doing a fine job of exploring. No humans necesary.


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By GuinnessKMF on 7/21/2011 10:33:32 AM , Rating: 5
While that might be true, I think I speak for most of the readers here when I say "F that noise!"

Forget doing what's practical, doing what's practical is boring, we only live once, and I want to live my life knowing that we're only taking steps forward.

NASA may be viewed as a unnecessary expense (As some video linked off some other article mentioned, it's only a half cent on the dollar of our taxes), but it's one of the most successful government programs, the return on investment may not be direct, but advances in technology due to NASA have more than made up for the cost (good lord I don't want to imagine a world without tang!) If we're going to leave our children in debt, I'd rather we do it with something to show for it.


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By delphinus100 on 7/21/11, Rating: 0
RE: Kids say the darndest things
By Moishe on 7/21/2011 3:37:16 PM , Rating: 4
I didn't sign up for allowing my tax dollars to be abused by a large number of welfare recipients...

I want a return on my tax dollars.

Space exploration and technology are valuable and worthy things to spend our money on. They produce something and thus need to be supported.

Most welfare recipients produce nothing and simply suck up resources that could be used by any number of other things.

My point is that if you're going to say that taxpayers didn't sign on to space exploration, you should be more strongly fighting to prevent the much larger and more prolific waste of taxpayer resources in many other areas.


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By mcnabney on 7/21/11, Rating: 0
RE: Kids say the darndest things
By Moishe on 7/25/2011 11:55:09 AM , Rating: 2
The "cool" stuff is definitely cool... but an important part of the space program is the everyday use that makes it all familiar and cheaper in the long run.

For any program to become affordable, it needs to be more commonplace. It's not sexy, but it is necessary.


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By Jeffk464 on 7/21/2011 10:33:50 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I'm starting to believe the only reason to send people is if you want to set up a permanent base on the moon or mars. If not its a lot easier and cheaper to just sent probes. Think about it you only have half the mission, people expect to come back after the mission is over.


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By Jeffk464 on 7/21/2011 10:34:34 AM , Rating: 2
send - oops


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By MrTeal on 7/21/2011 10:49:44 AM , Rating: 2
How coincidental that Atlantis ends the shuttle era on the 42nd anniversary of Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon.

I'm mixed on the retirement of NASA's manned space flight. I would hate to see the experience of those who designed and operated the shuttles leave; even if you want to restart the program in 10 years many of these people won't be available anymore and you'll spend time and money just getting back to the point you left off at.

That being said, manned space flight is hugely expensive. In FY2010, the ISS/Shuttles are 1/3 of NASA's budget, Exploration was another 20%. I'd like to think retiring the shuttles would allow more science to be done, although given recent trends I'm sure most will go to Earth Sciences (aka, trying to observe global warming).

Even in their FY2012 documents, NASA has $2.8B budgeted for the ISS in 2012, $3.0B in 2013, $3.0B in 2014, $3.1B in 2015 and $3.2B in 2016. This for a station that was intended to be deorbited in 2016 and may get a reprieve to 2020. Freeing up that cash would let NASA more than double their space science programs with money to spare.


By delphinus100 on 7/21/2011 12:27:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I'm mixed on the retirement of NASA's manned space flig


Um, only the Space Shuttle has been retired.


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By inperfectdarkness on 7/21/2011 4:11:41 PM , Rating: 3
can we bring back the saturn V already?


RE: Kids say the darndest things
By Belard on 7/21/2011 7:58:25 PM , Rating: 2
No.... the tech is out-dated.

Space X's design is bigger and modern and will work for for LEO flights and they are making plans for farther out.

The Dragon Capsule holds 7 people... unlike Apollo's 3 or Orion's 4.


By inperfectdarkness on 7/22/2011 1:57:58 PM , Rating: 2
you could put as much crap as you want in the 3rd stage; it was only needed to get us to the moon. the first 2 stages have sufficient propulsion--especially if you factor in the F1's upgrades that would push power up by 30%.


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