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A bittersweet moment in space history as Atlantis and her six-member crew landed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday morning. Very likely, this was Atlantis’ final landing, returning home after 25 years of service. The rich history of the Atlantis space shuttle includes 294 days in space, 4,648 orbits and 120,650,907 miles during 32 flights. There’s a chance this orbiter could fly again – she’ll be readied as a rescue ship for the last scheduled shuttle mission –and many shuttle supporters feel that since Atlantis will be fully geared up, she should fly one last time. But only time (and funding and Congress) will tell if Atlantis will fly again.
After wheel stop, capcom Charlie Hobaugh said, “Hock, (that’s commander Ken Ham – ‘Ham Hock’) that landing was something that your Air Force crewmates should have really been proud of, that looked pretty sweet. For you and your crew, that was a suiting end to an incredible mission. You guys executed flawlessly and not only that, you had a great time doing it. That was very evident from the ground. Everybody down here really enjoyed working with you.”
Ham sent his thanks to mission control and said, “We’ll now turn this incredible vehicle over so the teams can put her back in the barn for a little bit.”
Only two shuttle missions remain on the shuttle manifest; Discovery scheduled for launch in September or October, followed by Endeavour in November, or possibly early next year.
The landing evoked a stream of good wishes and emotions on the social networks Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps the most poignant was a Tweet from former NASA flight director Wayne Hale: “Tears of joy and sadness as we watched Atlantis final landing back on the cool green hills of Earth.”
The STS-132 crew, which included Ham, Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Steve Bowen and Piers Sellers, left the ISS bigger and more powerful, adding a Russian science module and fresh batteries. Before the shuttle undocked from the space station, the crew gave a tribute to Atlantis: