[QODLink]
Americas
NASA space shuttle begins final voyage
Atlantis heading back to Earth from International Space Station to complete final mission in 30-year shuttle programme.
Last Modified: 19 Jul 2011 09:43
The Atlantis and ISS separated on Tuesday, marking the end of the US government's final space mission [Reuters]

A space shuttle has left the International Space Station to begin the journey back to earth at the end of the final mission in the iconic NASA spacecraft's 30-year career.

Atlantis undocked early on Tuesday morning, hours after astronaut crews aboard the shuttle and the space station traded farewells as they soared nearly 350km (217 miles) above the Pacific Ocean.

"Thanks so much for hosting us. It's a great station, and it's been an absolute pleasure," Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson said of his crew's nine-day stay at the space station after the final shuttle was launched earlier this month.

"We'll miss you guys. Godspeed, soft landing and we'll see you back on Earth," space station crew member Ronald Garan, a NASA flight engineer, said as Atlantis floated freely away.

"Farewell ISS, make us proud," Ferguson replied.

The shuttle then spent several minutes gradually pulling back to a distance of 182 metres in order to assess some of the modules and equipment that other missions have not had a view of.

With the conclusion of the US shuttle programme, astronauts will fly to space from other countries until a new commercial launcher and capsule, built by a private corporation, launches sometime around 2015.

Before leaving, the Atlantis crew gave their station colleagues a small US flag that flew on the inaugural shuttle voyage in 1981.

The flag is the prize for the first rocket maker that brings people from the US back to the station, launching from their country.

US President Barack Obama described it last week as "a capture-the-flag moment here for commercial spaceflight."

Atlantis, which delivered several tons of equipment and supplies to stockpile the ISS, is scheduled for a predawn landing on Thursday at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
The author argues that in the new economy, it's people, not skills or majors, that have lost value.
Colleagues of detained Al Jazeera journalists press demands for their release, 100 days after their arrest in Egypt.
Mehdi Hasan discusses online freedoms and the potential of the web with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
A tight race seems likely as 814 million voters elect leaders in world's largest democracy next week.
Featured
Since independence, Zimbabwe has faced food shortages, hyperinflation - and several political crises.
After a sit-in protest at Poland's parliament, lawmakers are set to raise government aid to carers of disabled youth.
A vocal minority in Ukraine's east wants to join Russia, and Kiev has so far been unable to put down the separatists.
Iran's government has shifted its take on 'brain drain' but is the change enough to reverse the flow?
Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.
join our mailing list