Space Shuttle Atlantis, from its position atop NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, began its way back to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., June 1.
Atlantis and its seven-member crew wrapped up a 13-day mission to the Hubble Space Telescope with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base May 24.
The decision was made for a landing at the back-up site when dynamic thunderstorms and clouds filled the Florida skies.
The arrival of Atlantis marked the 53rd time a shuttle mission has concluded at Dryden. There have been 70 landings at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., and STS-3 landed at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Prior to the May 24 landing, Dryden hosted Space Shuttle Endeavour on Nov. 30, 2008.
As preparation began for the orbiter to be towed to Dryden and the Mate/Demate Device, Commander Scott Altman walked around Atlantis and then made a brief statement.
"Having this facility for us to return home to is just awesome," Altman said. "It's just beautiful weather here. Landing here felt great to everyone. This is a testament to the teamwork of folks across the country. Thanks to everyone. We're thrilled to be here. It's a great day."
Once at Kennedy, the shuttle will be separated from the NASA 747 and begin processing for the shuttle's next flight.
The Atlantis mission was the final flight to the Hubble Space Telescope and was focused on enhancing the observatory with new technology intended to increase the telescope's power. Five spacewalks were needed to install new instruments and thermal blankets, repair two existing instruments, refurbish subsystems and replace gyroscopes, batteries and a unit that stores and transmits science data to Earth.
The result of the work is six functioning complementary science instruments with new capabilities and an extension of the Hubble's lifespan through at least 2014.
Altman, who had led previous shuttle missions to the Hubble, headed the mission that included four first-time astronauts and two veterans of space travel.
It was a first flight for shuttle pilot Gregory C. Johnson and mission specialists Andrew Feustel, Michael Good and Megan McArthur. The mission was the fifth spaceflight for John Grunsfeld and the second space trek and mission to the Hubble for Mike Massimino. McArthur served as flight engineer and lead for robotic arm operations, while the remaining mission specialists paired up for challenging spacewalks on the Hubble.
The Hubble was launched into space on STS-31 in April 1990 and recorded its 100,000th orbit on Aug. 11, 2008. The telescope generates enough information to fill 18 DVDs each week.
The Hubble has enabled a number of discoveries during its time in orbit. Those discoveries include determining the age of the universe to be 13.7 billion years; finding that virtually all major galaxies have black holes at their center; and discovering that the process of planetary formation is relatively common.
More information about NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is available at http://www.nasa.gov/hubble. For more about the STS-125 mission and the upcoming STS-127 flight, visit http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle
By Jay Levine