Space shuttle Atlantis makes final landing

July 21st, 2011 - 5:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 21 (IANS) Space shuttle Atlantis Thursday landed at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, bringing to a close the US’s 30-year orbiter programme.

The spacecraft touched down at 0956 GMT, Xinhua reported, quoting NASA TV. Atlantis lifted off on its final flight July 8 to deliver cargo and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS). It undocked from the station Tuesday.

After the US shuttle fleet’s retirement, Russia’s Soyuz and Progress spacecraft will take the bulk of crew rotation and cargo missions to the ISS until at least the middle of the decade, according to RIA Novosti.

Russia has signed a number of contracts with NASA on the delivery of US astronauts to the ISS until 2016. NASA is paying its Russian counterpart Roscosmos over $1 billion for crew transport services over the next four years, it said.

Retirement of NASA’s iconic shuttle fleet was ordered by the US government, in part due to the high cost of maintaining the ships, BBC added.

The Atlantis touch-down Thursday marks a moment of high emotion for the local region - not least because it will trigger a big lay-off of contractor staff. Some 3,000 people involved in shuttle operations will lose their jobs within days, the broadcaster said.

The orbiter programme itself does not officially end for a month, but even then it is likely to take a couple of years to close all activities, such as the archiving of decades of shuttle engineering data, it said.

Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy visitor complex. The Discovery and Endeavour shuttles, which made their final flights earlier this year, will go to the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Centre in Virginia and the California Science Centre in Los Angeles, respectively.

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