I’m sitting here in the predawn quiet looking at the shuttle Atlantis. She has just landed after her final journey of 5,284,862 miles, having hurled herself at the world while most of America slept. Fifty-five thousand of us watched her as she pushed her way back into our atmosphere, hurtled toward Florida, flew lower and was picked up by infrared cameras at Kennedy Space Center.
When she lined up and swooped back to earth we held our breath and watched with a mix of relief, gratitude and dismay. She was glorious in silhouette when her wheels touched down, her drag chute unfurled and she coasted to a final wheel stop at MET:12d 18h 28m 55s, 4:57:54 am CT.
As a wan wakening sun stretched its rays and began to brighten the earth, our astronauts were still aboard shutting down her systems for the last time. It was business as usual, but also the end of an era in our space program. I was here to witness the birth of the shuttle program, and now with an admittedly heavy heart I witness its end.
Atlantis has flown thirty-three missions, spent 307 days in space, orbited Earth 4,848 times and traveled 125,935,769 miles. She will spend her retirement on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Congratulations to the NASA and theSTS-135 Crew.
Thank you, Atlantis, we’ll miss you. (And, yes, I’m going to cry.)