On July 21, 2011, NASA’s space shuttle program completes its final, and 135th, mission, when the shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
During the program’s 30-year history, its five orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour—carried more than 350 people into space and flew more than 500 million miles, and shuttle crews conducted important research, serviced the Hubble Space Telescope and helped in the construction of the International Space Station, among other activities. NASA retired the shuttles to focus on a deep-space exploration program that could one day send astronauts to asteroids and Mars.
On July 8, 2011, Atlantis was launched on its 33rd mission. With four crew members aboard, Atlantis flew thousands of pounds of supplies and extra parts to the International Space Station; it was the 37th shuttle flight to make the trip.
Thirteen days later, on July 21, Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center at 5:57 a.m., after a journey of more than 5 million miles, during which it orbited the Earth 200 times. Upon landing, the flight’s commander, Capt. Christopher J. Ferguson, said, “Mission complete, Houston. After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history, and it’s come to a final stop.”
During its 26 years in service, Atlantis flew almost 126 million miles, circled Earth 4,848 times and spent 307 days in space. The estimated price tag for the entire space shuttle program, from development to retirement, was $209 billion.
After completing their final missions, the orbiters were sent to museums around the country: Discovery went to the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. During a visit to Washington DC last summer, my family and I visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and seeing the Space Shuttle Discovery was quite an experience.
Endeavour was sent to California Science Center in Los Angeles.
Atlantis was sent to Kennedy Space Center.
A space shuttle prototype, the Enterprise, is now housed at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.