The Space Shuttle Atlantis and its four-person crew landed at the
Kennedy Space Center in Florida just before dawn, bringing to a close a
program that began in 1981 and leaving the United States temporarily
with no vehicle to transport astronauts into space. It was a day of
mixed emotions for people who gathered there to witness the last
takes off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, July 8, 2011
As thousands of
people along the central-Florida Atlantic Ocean coastline huddled in the
pre-dawn darkness to watch, Atlantis came in from the southwest, a small
spark of light in the dark sky. NASA commentator Rob Navias announced
the end of the mission and the space shuttle program.
NAVIAS: "Nose gear touchdown. Having fired the imagination of a
generation, a ship like no other, its place in history secured, the
space shuttle pulls into port for the last time, its voyage at an end."
Hundreds of people gathered at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center
to watch the shuttle return. But many visitors expressed uneasiness with
the decision to end the space shuttle program before any other vehicle
has been developed to replace it. Tony Diaz, who rode his motorcycle up
from Miami to watch the landing, is one of the disgruntled space
"I am really not very happy with what they have done to the space
program ... because we are leaders and the United States should always
be up there in space," said Diaz.
Maria, who came with her family from Dallas, Texas, regrets that her
children will never be able to see another shuttle mission. "It is
pretty sad that this is the last time kids will be able to experience
something like this," she said.
Private companies are working on such vehicles, but it could be several
years before one is ready to take astronauts into orbit. Plans for
eventual missions to an asteroid and to Mars could be decades away. But
Daytona Beach, Florida resident Rob Hansen is more optimistic.
"We are moving on to privatizing this kind of operation and NASA is
going to move on to exploration deeper out, so I think that will work
out in the long run," noted Hansen.
the people with the strongest opinions are hundreds of NASA employees
who are losing their jobs as the space shuttle program ends. Jonathan
Miller, who works with the Johnson Space Center's Extra-Vehicular
Activity Office in Houston and came here to see the last landing, says
his concern goes well beyond the issue of job losses.
"The future of human space flight is critical to this nation as the
leader in space and we are nervous that some of that leadership is
lost," said Miller. "There is 30 years of momentum behind the shuttle
program and it has just come to an end, moments ago."
The space shuttle Atlantis will remain here at the Kennedy Space Center,
where it will eventually go on public display. The other three shuttles
are being sent to museums and science centers in other parts of the
country so that Americans will be able to see and experience part of the
U.S. space program's history as they await its next step in space