Shuttle Atlantis Returns to Earth for the Last Time

After the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis set the spacecraft on track for a landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the shuttle and crew arrived safely, marking the end of Atlantis' storied history. The shuttle will be towed to its processing facility.

"Space shuttle Atlantis and six astronauts ended a 12-day journey of more than 4.8 million miles with an 8:48 a.m. EDT landing Wednesday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flawless landing wrapped up a highly successful mission to deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, known as 'Rassvet' ('dawn' in Russian), to the International Space Station," NASA said in a statement May 26.

The deorbit burn occurred at 7:41 a.m. EDT, leading to an 8:48 a.m. landing at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Later today, Atlantis will be towed from the runway to its processing facility. "The orbiter will go through standard prelaunch preparations as the 'launch-on-need' vehicle for Endeavour's STS-134 mission," the last scheduled flight of the space shuttle program, NASA said. "That flight currently is targeted for November."

STS-132 Commander Ken Ham, Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Mike Good, Garrett Reisman, Steve Bowen and Piers Sellers started the day "with final stowage activities and deorbit preparations." In another release, NASA said, "The third of five shuttle missions planned for 2010, this was the last scheduled flight for Atlantis." Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager, spoke highly of everyone who built and maintained Atlantis during the orbiter's 25 years of service. "The folks who built it, all the missions it's flown over its career, have been just amazing. I can't even begin to talk about how proud I am of Atlantis and the whole team," he said.

"The crew awoke at 11:20 p.m. CDT Tuesday to 'Supermassive Black Hole' performed by Muse. The song was played for Commander Ken Ham," NASA said in a news release May 25. A mission status report the same day said, "Ham, Antonelli, and Good began the flight control system checkout at about 2:40 a.m., operating the rudder and flaps that will control Atlantis' flight through the atmosphere to the Florida runway. That complete, Ham and Antonelli fired each of the shuttle's 44 attitude control thrusters that orient Atlantis in space as it descends from orbit and through the upper atmosphere. Both those tests were completed successfully.
"All crewmembers worked at various times throughout the day to stow items in the cabin to prepare for landing. The crew gathered for a 30-minute deorbit briefing ... Immediately afterward they talked with representatives of The Colbert Report, ABC Radio Network and WEWS-TV of Cleveland, NASA reported.

"Late in their day, Reisman and Sellers stowed the Ku-band antenna in Atlantis' cargo bay. The high-data-rate antenna transmits, among other things, television from the shuttle."
The history of the Atlantis space shuttle includes several notable events, including being the orbiter that launched the first Russian module into space. It was also "the first shuttle to dock to the Russian Space Station Mir-in fact, Atlantis was the shuttle behind seven of the 11 shuttle missions to Mir," NASA said in a mission description May 14. "Besides the visits to Mir, Atlantis carried the Magellan Spacecraft into orbit, sending it on its way to Venus, where it mapped 98 percent of the planet from orbit. The same year-1989-it also deployed the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter, where it collected data on the planet and its moons for eight years."