News media personnel crowd around NASA astronauts Sandra Magnus at left and Chris Ferguson (at rear) following their presentation on their final space shuttle mission at NASA Dryden Aug. 23. › View Larger Photo
From left, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, Rex Walheim, Sandra Magnus and Chris Ferguson (partially hidden) found a ready audience of autograph seekers among NASA Dryden employees who attended their briefing on the STS-135 mission on space shuttle Atlantis Aug. 23. › View Larger Photo Space shuttle Atlantis completed its last mission in July, but for its crew the mission lives on – at least for the next two months.
The STS-135 crewmembers, the last four persons to fly in a space shuttle, are traveling the nation to thank people for their support of the space program and recap some of the mission's highlights.
As part of the whirlwind tour, mission commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim recalled personal highlights of the final shuttle mission and their involvement in the Space Shuttle Program before an appreciative audience of employees during a brief visit to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base Aug. 23.
"I personally feel like this is our second home - we've had more than 40 percent of the shuttles land out here," said Ferguson, who landed the shuttle Endeavour at Edwards when mission STS-126 concluded on Nov. 30, 2008. "We came out here practically seasonally to practice in the Shuttle Training Aircraft [that simulate landing a space shuttle]," he added.
Ferguson also noted Dryden's aeronautics work and the Approach and Landing Tests with the prototype shuttle Enterprise in 1977 provided major contributions to the shuttle program, confirming the space shuttle's aerodynamics and capability to make unpowered landings.
NASA astronaut Rex Walheim adds his autograph to those of his STS-135 crewmates Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley and Sandra Magnus on the nose of NASA 944, a modified Gulfstream-II Shuttle Training Aircraft following their visit to NASA Dryden Aug. 23. The aircraft is due to be retired and will eventually be placed on public display at NASA Dryden. › View Larger Photo The historical significance of being the last space shuttle crew was not lost on the STS-135 astronauts.
"We were extraordinarily honored to be part of this final mission. We tried to send it off and we are so elated that we were able to put it to bed in the best way possible – with a very successful mission," Ferguson said.
STS-135's key mission was to deliver a stockpile of supplies and parts to the International Space Station. During the eight-day docking with the ISS, more than 9,400 pounds of supplies and equipment were unloaded and more than 5,700 pounds of equipment and discards no longer needed on station were returned to Earth on Atlantis.
While the shuttles have now been retired, the astronauts stressed that the ISS mission continues. They also said they expect NASA astronauts will again travel to space in a new American-built space vehicle in the years to come.