STS-135: Wheels Stop
Those two words carry a great significance for the Space Shuttle Program. At the end of each shuttle landing, when the orbiter has come to rest on the runway, the commander calls mission control with those words, indicating that the mission has ended.
Those words will be spoken from the space shuttle only one more time.
At the end of the STS-135 mission of the space shuttle Atlantis, the orbiter's landing gear will stop turning; the orbiter will come to a complete stop; and Commander Chris Ferguson will call mission control and speak those two words.
And when he does, the three-decade-long space shuttle flight program will be over.
The STS-135 mission will mark two
It is, of course, the end of the shuttle program. It also marks the end of the International Space Station's reliance on the shuttle. During the mission, the STS-135 crew will deliver equipment and supplies to the space station. After Atlantis undocks, the space station will continue to operate at least through 2020 but without support from the shuttle fleet. The supplies from STS-135 will help make the space station better prepared for that time. After the shuttle stops flying, a fleet of other vehicles, representing many countries, will continue to supply the station. Very soon, the U.S. also will be sending cargo resupply vehicles to the station.
Atlantis will be the last of the orbiters to complete its mission. Named after an oceanic research vessel, Atlantis made its first flight on the 51-J mission in October 1985. After STS-135, Atlantis will have flown a total of 33 missions, which included such highlights as the launch of space probes to Venus and Jupiter, the delivery of the Destiny laboratory to the International Space Station, and the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in 2009.
Commanding Atlantis for the shuttle's final flight will be astronaut Chris Ferguson. He has visited the space station twice before, as pilot of STS-115 in 2006, and as commander of STS-126 in 2008. The mission's pilot is Douglas Hurley, who previously flew on the STS-127 mission in 2009.
Mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim also will be aboard Atlantis. Magnus flew on STS-112 in 2002, and then lived on the International Space Station as part of its Expedition 18 crew from November 2008 until March 2009. Walheim has visited the space station on two previous shuttle missions, STS-110 in 2002 and STS-122 in 2008. Walheim will have flown on Atlantis for all three of his trips into space.
The STS-135 mission is an important step in preparing for the future of spaceflight. NASA is working to carry out a long-term plan that will lead to human exploration of the solar system. STS-135 completes the first step of that plan with the retirement of the space shuttle and the completion of the International Space Station. The station is an important platform for learning how to live and work in space and will be vital to exploration as human space travel extends farther from Earth.
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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services