The shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth for the final time today (July 21), but the orbiter has one more mission left on its docket — teaching and inspiring the public as a museum showpiece.
Atlantis landed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 5:57 a.m. EDT (0957 GMT), officially ending NASA’s iconic shuttle program after 30 years of operation.
But Atlantis and the other surviving orbiters — Discovery, Endeavour and the prototype Enterprise used in landing tests — won’t fade into obscurity. Rather, they’ll occupy pride of place at museums around the country, serving as ambassadors for the shuttle program for years to come.
“We’re going to put Atlantis in a museum now, along with the other three orbiters, for the generations that come after us to admire and appreciate,” Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson said from the shuttle runway just after landing the orbiter. “I want that picture of a young 6-year-old boy looking up at a space shuttle in a museum and saying, ‘Daddy, I want to do something like that when I grow up,’ or ‘I want our country to do fantastic things like this for the continued future.’”
Atlantis, in particular, is NASA’s pride and joy. Unlike the other orbiters, which are bound for museums across the country, Atlantis will stay in Florida to be displayed at the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
“I think people will come here and finally appreciate the sort of underappreciated shuttle program,” said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of the Visitor Complex. “The shuttles did such a great job that spaceflight became relatively routine.”
Atlantis won’t roll off the runway and head immediately over to the Visitor Complex. It will undergo a months-long decommissioning and safing process, during which NASA technicians will remove some pieces for research purposes and others for safety reasons.
They’ll hold onto the orbiter’s main engines permanently, for example. And they’ll scrub away all traces of rocket fuel from the thruster system inside Atlantis’ nose before handing the shuttle over.
This process should be done by late 2012 or early 2013, Moore said. The Visitor Complex hopes to have Atlantis on display by July 2013 — perhaps two years to the day after its final launch, which took place July 8.
“I think it would be great to open on July 4, or July 8,” Moore told SPACE.com. “Do we open on the anniversary of its last flight? Do we open on America’s birthday? I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.”
July 21 marks the completion of the 13-day flight of the Atlantis Spacecraft as it lands at dawn at Cape Canaveral. In commemoration of this mighty endeavor by NASA, Warplanes.com is bringing all Spacecraft Models on SALE!
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