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Atlantis and four astronauts returned from the International Space Station in triumph Thursday, bringing an end to NASA's 30-year shuttle journey with one last, rousing touchdown that drew cheers and tears. Thousands gathered near the landing strip and packed Kennedy Space Center, and countless others watched from afar, as NASA's longest-running spaceflight program came to a close. With the space shuttles retiring to museums, it will be another three to five years at best before Americans are launched again from U.S. soil, as private companies gear up to seize the Earth-to-orbit-and-back baton from NASA. This image provided by NASA shows the space shuttle Atlantis photographed from the International Space Station as the orbiting complex and the shuttle performed final separation of a space shuttle in the early hours of Tuesday July 19, 2011. Space shuttle Atlantis is towed to the Orbitor Processing facility for decommissioning at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, July 21, 2011. The landing of Atlantis marks the end of NASA's 30-year space shuttle program. Commander Chris Ferguson walks under space shuttle Atlantis after landing at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Thursday, July 21, 2011.

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view Space Shuttle Comes to Final Stop After 30 Years as presented by: Sacramento Bee


It has happened. The final space shuttle launch took place several hours ago. Space shuttle Atlantis went on the final ever journey in the NASA space shuttle program. It is anybody’s guess as to when the next launch of a space vehicle from NASA will be, so we’d better treasure the memories. Space shuttle Atlantis is pictured on launch pad 39A after the Rotating Service Structure was rolled back at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 7, 2011. The space shuttle, carrying a crew of four and food and other supplies critical for the International Space Station, went into orbit on Friday on the final flight in the 30-year U.S. shuttle program. Vivica Eaton stands along route A1A displaying space shuttle Atlantis t-shirts to passing motorists in Cocoa Beach. Spectators applaud as they stand in the water in Titusville, Florida to watch the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis as it blasts off from Pad 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 8, 2011.

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view Space Shuttle Atlantis: The Final Launch as presented by: Totally Cool Pix


From its first launch 30 years ago to its final launch scheduled for next Friday, NASA's Space Shuttle program has seen moments of dizzying inspiration and of crushing disappointment. When next week's launch is complete, the program will have sent up 135 missions, ferrying more than 350 humans and thousands of tons of material and equipment into low Earth orbit. Fourteen astronauts have lost their lives along the way -- the missions have always been risky, the engineering complex, the hazards extreme. As we near the end of the program, I'd like to look back at the past few decades of shuttle development and missions as we await the next steps toward human space flight. Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from Kennedy Space Center, on April 12, 1981. Commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen were onboard STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program. The space shuttle twin solid rocket boosters separate from the orbiter and external tank at an altitude of approximately 24 miles. They descend on parachutes and land in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast, where they are recovered by ships, returned to land, and refurbished for reuse. A technician works on sensors installed in the back end of a scale model of the Space Shuttle in NASA's 10X10 foot wind tunnel, on February 15, 1977.

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view The History of the Space Shuttle as presented by: The Atlantic


NASA's Space Shuttle program continues to wind down, with only two more launches planned -- the final one taking place in June (if funded). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recently announced four facilities where shuttle orbiters will be displayed permanently in New York, California, Florida, and Washington, D.C. At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Launch Pad 39B, originally designed for the Apollo program and later customized to support the Space Shuttle, is currently being taken apart in preparation for future missions with new, post-shuttle launch systems. Space Shuttle Discovery -- which landed for the final time last month after having flown 39 missions, traveling 148,221,675 miles -- now sits inside Orbiter Processing Facility-2, as it's inspected, disassembled, and prepared for its new life as a public exhibit. Collected here are some images of the 29-year old program's last days. Red spray paint marks the spot where the nose landing gear of space shuttle Discovery stopped after it landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Wednesday, March 9, 2011. A marker will be placed in the runway to mark the final spot where Discovery ended its career as the world's most flown spaceship. A large crane dismantles a level of the fixed service structure (FSS) on Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The structure was designed to support the unique needs of the Space Shuttle Program. The new design will feature a "clean pad" for rockets to come with their own launcher, making it more versatile for a number of vehicles. Shuttle Atlantis' three main engines take center stage to the banners commemorating the orbiters that served the Space Shuttle Program.

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view Dismantling the Space Shuttle Program as presented by: The Atlantic


March 9th 2011 saw the end of an era. The Space Shuttle Discovery landed for the last time after a 13-day space mission to the International Space Station. Discovery served NASA for 27 years, flew 39 missions, spent exactly one year (365 days) in space and orbited the earth 5,830 times. Let’s hope she finds a good resting place. Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 24, 2011. Six astronauts are aboard on a mission to the International Space Station. The space shuttle Discovery is prepared for launch as the Rotating Service Structure is rolled back at launch pad 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 23, 2011. Discovery is scheduled for launch with a crew of six astronauts on February 24 on a mission to the International Space Station. NASA management watch the launch of space shuttle Discovery (STS-133) from the firing room at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 24, 2011. Discovery, on its 39th and final flight, is carrying the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4) and Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space to the International Space Station.

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view Space Shuttle Discovery: The Final Journey as presented by: Totally Cool Pix


NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to make its last trip into low Earth orbit. Discovery will be traveling to the International Space Station, carrying a large module packed with supplies and critical spare parts, as well as a robotic assistant named Robonaut 2. With the entire Space Shuttle program scheduled for mandatory retirement this year, Discovery is the most-flown spacecraft in history, traveling 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) over the course of its 39 missions since 1984, and spending nearly a full year in orbit. Gathered here are images of Discovery, its crew, and support staff from the past several months, while the spacecraft was being prepared for today's launch. This mission, STS-133, is scheduled for liftoff at 4:50 p.m Eastern Time. Robonaut 2 waits inside the electromagnetic interference chamber at Johnson Space Center following tests that ensure the robot's electronic systems won't cause problems for other important systems at the International Space Station. R2 will be journeying to the space station onboard Discovery during the STS-133 mission. At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, shuttle Discovery pauses in between Orbiter Processing Facility-3 and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) during a move called "rollover" on September 9th, 2010. Once inside the VAB, the shuttle will be joined to its solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank. Later, Discovery was scheduled to "rollout" to Launch Pad 39A for its launch to the International Space Station on the STS-133 mission. Spectators watch as space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 24, 2011. Six astronauts are aboard on a mission to the International Space Station.

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view Space Shuttle Discovery's Final Launch as presented by: The Atlantic



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