For Shuttle Atlantis, a Final Landing

For Shuttle Atlantis, a Final Landing
# 26 May 2010 23:59 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Gliding into retirement after 32 missions covering 120 million miles, the shuttle Atlantis dropped out of orbit and returned to Earth on Wednesday, wrapping up a storied 25-year career with a near-flawless space station assembly mission, APA reports quoting “The New York Times”.
Taking over manual control 50,000 feet above the Florida spaceport, Capt. Kenneth T. Ham of the Navy, the commander, guided the 105-ton space plane through a sweeping right overhead turn before a steep descent to Runway 33.
Just shy of the runway threshold, Captain Ham pulled the shuttle’s nose up, Cmdr. Dominic A. Antonelli of the Navy, the pilot, deployed the ship’s landing gear and Atlantis swooped to a picture-perfect touchdown at 8:48 a.m. Eastern time.
“Houston, Atlantis, we have wheels stopped,” Captain Ham radioed a few moments later as the shuttle coasted to a stop on the runway centerline.
“For you and your crew, that was a suiting end to an incredible mission. I’m sure the station crew members hated to see you leave, but we’re glad to have you back,” Marine Col. Charles Hobaugh replied from mission control in Houston.
The astronauts, including Captain Ham; Commander Antonelli; Michael T. Good, a flight engineer and retired Air Force colonel; Garrett E. Reisman; Piers J. Sellers; and Capt. Stephen G. Bowen of the Navy, planned to doff their pressure suits and join NASA managers and engineers on the runway for a walk-around inspection before returning to crew quarters.
During a busy week docked to the International Space Station, the astronauts installed a Russian research module, delivered several tons of supplies and carried out three spacewalks to install a backup Ku-band antenna, an equipment mounting platform and six new solar array batteries.
It was the final planned mission for Atlantis as NASA phases out the shuttle program after three decades and more than 130 flights. Only two more missions are planned, a flight by Discovery in September or October and a final flight by Endeavour late this year or early next.
But Atlantis, along with a final set of solid-fuel boosters and NASA’s last external tank, will be processed for launch on a possible rescue mission in case of any major problems that might prevent Endeavour’s crew from making a safe re-entry.
While there are no official plans to actually launch Atlantis, NASA managers are seeking permission from the Obama administration to send the shuttle back up on one final space station resupply mission. Using a crew of four, NASA could avoid the need for a shuttle rescue vehicle, relying on the space station for safe haven and Russian Soyuz spacecraft for the crew’s eventual return to Earth if a major problem stranded Atlantis in space.
A decision is expected later this summer.
Atlantis blasted off on its maiden flight, a classified military mission, on Oct. 3, 1985. The orbiter flew another 31 times over the next 25 years, crossing the 120-million-mile mark early Wednesday.
Among the highlights of its quarter century of service were the launchings of robotic probes to Venus and Jupiter, deployment of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory satellite, five military missions and seven flights to the Russian Mir space station.
Atlantis also flew 11 missions to the International Space Station and visited the Hubble Space Telescope last year for a final overhaul.
“It’s a real honor to be among the 191 crew members that have flown on Atlantis in her over 300 days in orbit, 120 million miles,” Captain Bowen, a former submariner, said before re-entry. “Atlantis is actually named after a ship of research and discovery from a place I happened to study, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. And she has definitely lived up to her name.”