Atlantis lands safely for 33rd and final time; U.S. space shuttle programs ends at age 30
After streaking across the Gulf of Mexico at 14 times the speed of sound, the Atlantis space shuttle and its reduced four-member crew landed safely on runway 15 just before dawn Thursday morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The final "wheels stop" came after a 12-day, 18-hour and 27-minute journey that concluded the NASA program after 30 years, 135 launches and 133 landings.
It was the 33rd trip out of Earth's atmosphere for Atlantis, which will spend its retirement days now as an exhibit at its home spaceport visitors center.
For the foreseeable future, American astronauts will be buying tickets to ride into space aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Final Atlantis career stats:
307 days in space
125,935,769 frequent flyer miles
Thanks to everyone involved for all the discoveries and the adventures.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photo: NASA (The final landing of the U.S. space shuttle program, Atlantis down safely at 5:57 a.m. EDT, July 21).