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NASA welcomed the very last spent Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB’s) back into port with a special water cannon salute today (July 10) at Port Canaveral, Florida. The twin boosters parachuted back to Earth after powering Atlantis’ historic final ascent to orbit for the first two minutes following blastoff of the STS-135 mission from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on July 8.
After splashdown into the Atlantic Ocean, the boosters were towed back individually by two NASA naval vessels named Freedom Star and Liberty Star. See my photo album.
This beautiful photo op is free and open to the public – and has been since the beginning of the space shuttle program 30 years ago.
Atlantis’ right SRB was towed back first by Liberty Star and arrived at Port Canaveral jetty at about 12 p.m. EDT. Freedom Star came in at about 11 p.m.
Both NASA ships are typically manned by a crew numbering 24 team members. The ocean retrieval normally takes about two days.
A large crowd of onlookers – including many of us KSC press site photojournalists – were on hand to witness the water cannon blasting from the Elizabeth’s tug, owned by the Port Canaveral Port Authority, and trumpeting the procession through the port channel and eventually past several gigantic Cruise ships.
The boosters were temporarily moored at the North Turning Basin before being towed through the locks and then headed out to the AF refurbishment hanger at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The water cannon tribute was specially commissioned to honor the ocean retrieval of the last shuttle SRB’s that will ever fly.
“The future of Liberty Star and Freedom Star remains to be decided,” according to KSC spokesperson Allard Beutel in an interview. “The ships are available for use. SpaceX rented out one of the ships in an attempt to retrieve the first stage of the Falcon 9 during their two launches from Cape Canaveral.”
Read my features about the Final Shuttle mission, STS-135, here:
Shuttle Atlantis Soars to Space One Last time: Photo Album
Atlantis Unveiled for Historic Final Flight amidst Stormy Weather
Counting down to the Last Shuttle; Stormy weather projected
Atlantis Crew Jets to Florida on Independence Day for Final Shuttle Blastoff
NASA Sets July 8 for Mandatory Space Shuttle Grand Finale
Final Shuttle Voyagers Conduct Countdown Practice at Florida Launch Pad
Final Payload for Final Shuttle Flight Delivered to the Launch Pad
Last Ever Shuttle Journeys out to the Launch Pad; Photo Gallery
Atlantis Goes Vertical for the Last Time
Atlantis Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building with Final Space Shuttle Crew for July 8 Blastoff