Added by Erik West on July 21, 2011
US manned space exploration came to a graceful end early Thursday morning as space shuttle Atlantis landed safely, ending its final mission – STS-135.
The shuttle’s final mission’s objectives included delivery of supplies to the International Space Station, which are expected to last into 2012. The mission also returned some failed equipment from the ISS for further study by engineers.
The mission rounds out 135 journeys into orbit around earth. The fleet of space shuttles is estimated to have travelled a total of over 200m km over the course of a total of 307 days in space and more than 4,800 orbits around our home planet, spanning a total of 30 years. The space shuttle’s legacy is the International Space Station, which took 37 missions to complete.
The space shuttle program delivered a total of about 1.5m kg, and deployed 180 satellites into orbit. The space shuttle’s Canadian-build robot arm assisted in over 100 spacewalks, retrieved seven satellites, and delivered 30 space station components.
Barry “Butch” Wilmore from mission control in Houston said to the crew when Atlantis stopped on the runway, “…we’ll take this opportunity to congratulate you, Atlantis, as well as the thousands of passionate individuals across this great, space faring nation who truly empower this incredible spacecraft, which for three decades has inspired millions around the globe”.
The US space program now shifts its focus to helping private companies develop space exploration capabilities. Manned missions into space will use the Russian Soyuz rockets; Soyuz capsules are currently used at the ISS in case astronauts have to return from the space station in an emergency. A trip to the ISS on a Soyuz rocket takes two days from launch to docking, yet the return to Earth takes less than 3.5 hours. Soyuz rockets launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan borders the Caspian Sea.