Atlantis returns home for last time

NASA will soon retire its space shuttle fleet due to cost and safety concerns

Atlantis returns home for last time

final flight: Atlantis returns to the shuttle-landing facility at Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday. AFP

Circling high over the Kennedy Space Centre to burn off speed, commander Ken Ham gently nosed the 100-tonne ship towards a landing strip three miles away from where he and five crew mates had blasted off on May 14 to begin NASA’s 132nd shuttle mission.

Atlantis touched down at 8:48 am EDT, completing its 32nd and final flight. The shuttles began flying in 1981 and are being retired due to cost and safety concerns.

NASA plans to fly each of its remaining shuttles, Discovery and Endeavour, once more this year to complete assembly and outfitting of the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that has been under construction for 12 years.

President Barack Obama wants to cancel a follow-on programme to the shuttles to develop rockets and capsules aimed at returning US astronauts to the moon, and instead develop new technologies for travel farther from Earth. The proposal, which is pending before Congress, is controversial.

Before being turned over to a museum, Atlantis will be prepared as an emergency rescue ship for the last shuttle crew.

NASA is evaluating proposals from museums and science centers wanting to display Atlantis and Endeavour. Discovery, which is scheduled to make its last flight in September, is promised to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

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