The shuttle Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center this morning at 5:57 EDT, having flown more than 5 million miles in 12 days, 18 hours and 28 minutes. The four-astronaut crew, Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim, completed the final mission of the United States after three decades of manned space exploration supported by the U.S. government — marking the end of an era
Atlantis brought up more spare parts, equipment and other supplies during this mission, including 2,677 pounds of food that will sustain operations at the International Space Station for the coming year. On the return trip, the Raffaello ferried back tons of materials no longer of use.
The Atlantis crew was welcomed home by senior NASA officials, marking 30 years of achievements in space exploration and collateral research and development, blazing the trail for the next era of U.S. manned spaceflight and inspiring future American scientists and explorers.
Administrators at NASA acknowledge that the U.S. is entering a new frontier:
We will use the International Space Station as a test bed and stepping stone for the challenging journey ahead. We are changing the way we do business, fostering a commercial industry that will safely service low Earth orbit so we can focus our energy and resources on sending astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. The road ahead is challenging but this approach and space exploration architecture puts us in a position to go where no human has gone before.
For more information about the future of human space exploration at NASA visit: www.nasa.gov/exploration.
According to a CNN poll released today, a majority of Americans believe that the U.S.should develop replacement spacecraft and continue to send explorers into space. An International Poll also taken by CNN indicated that most of the public elsewhere also wants to U.S.to do this, but a majority would prefer that some private enterprise would ‘make it so,’ as Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say, rather than relying on a government program. .
CNN Polling Director Keating Holland notes in the Political Ticker website:
“Eight in ten men favor replacing the shuttle, compared to roughly two-thirds of women. But there is little partisan divide on this topic – more than seven out of ten Democrats, Independents and Republicans want to see the U.S. develop a new spacecraft.”
The full results of the poll are available online.
Both the post-landing news conference and the crew news conference will be available to the public live on NASA TV and will also be available online at www.nasa.gov/ntv. A welcome home ceremony for the astronauts takes place in NASA’s Hangar 990 at Ellington Field in Houstonon Friday, July 22, to which the Press and members of the public are invited; and which also will be broadcast live on NASA Television.
On behalf of his crew, Commander Chris Ferguson noted this morning that there are so many Americans who will be sharing in the achievements that today’s event entails: “Although we got to take the ride, we sure hope that everybody who has ever worked on, or touched, or looked at, or envied or admired a space shuttle was able to take just a little part of the journey with us.”
Tomorrow the Smithsonian will host its annual National Air and Space Museum event, Mars Day! The event will feature a variety of educational and family fun-oriented activities in celebration of the “Red Planet.” Scientists who are active in Mars research will be available and visitors are invited to converse with them andto learn about current and future Mars missions. To follow the latest developments of the National Air & Space Musuem, visit their blog.