Sunday, 24 July 2011

Space shuttle Atlantis makes final landing

Space shuttle Atlantis has landed back on Earth, bringing to a close America's 30-year orbiter programme.  The vehicle swept into the Kennedy Space Center, its wheels touching the runway just before local sunrise.

Nasa's shuttles were instrumental in building the space station, and were used to maintain the Hubble telescope.  "The space shuttle changed the way we view the world and it changed the way we view the Universe," said commander Chris Ferguson on landing.

"There's a lot of emotion today but one thing's indisputable: America's not going to stop exploring," he radioed to mission control.  Retirement of Nasa's iconic shuttle fleet was ordered by the US government, in part due to the high cost of maintaining the ships.

For Atlantis, its retirement will be spent as a static display at the Kennedy visitor complex.  The Discovery and Endeavour shuttles, which made their final flights earlier this year, will go to the Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia and the California Science Center in Los Angeles, respectively.

The decision leaves the country with no means of putting astronauts in orbit.

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