Atlantis: photos, video of final shuttle mission landing

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Space shuttle Atlantis STS-135 lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 21, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis glided home through a moonlit sky for its final landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, completing a 30-year odyssey for NASA's shuttle fleet. (REUTERS/Scott Audette)

[Video Link]

"Wheel stop. Think about that."--my friend and fellow space fan Mike Outmesguine.

BB pal Brian Jones has another shot here, and a beautiful blog post with impressions from the landing, a smooth and successful and bittersweet final touchdown in the early hours of the morning, Florida time.

Brian writes from Cape Canaveral:

The nostalgia is ever present here as a flood of memories come back from a then 7 year old me watching the news reports of the first untethered flight of Shuttle Enterprise and being so excited to have a real, live spaceship in my future. I dreamed of traveling to space and seeing the moon and perhaps further. The emotions and excitement was incredible as the first true space capable Shuttle, STS-1 launched in 1981 and crushing when Space Shuttle Challenger, STS-51 exploded 73 seconds into flight. STS-51 was a transformative moment for many who remember precisely what they were doing and where when they heard. I was getting dressed in gym class when I heard the news of the explosion and ran home as fast as I could, skipping the rest of school for the day to watch incredulously as the news played the launch in endless loops.

The Shuttle program obviously recovered from that tragedy, but could not recover from short sighted planning on the part of the American government. The lack of a programatic followup to the Space Shuttle program on the part of the US is staggeringly myopic.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden issued this statement today about the shuttle's final landing:

At today's final landing of the space shuttle, we had the rare
opportunity to witness history. We turned the page on a remarkable
era and began the next chapter in our nation's extraordinary story of
exploration.

The brave astronauts of STS-135 are emblematic of the shuttle program.
Skilled professionals from diverse backgrounds who propelled America
to continued leadership in space with the shuttle's many successes.
It is my great honor today to welcome them home.

I salute them and all of the men and women who have flown shuttle
missions since the very first launch on April 12, 1981.

The shuttle program brought our nation many firsts. Many proud
moments, some of which I was privileged to experience myself as a
shuttle commander. I was proud to be part of the shuttle program and
will carry those experiences with me for the rest of my life.

As we move forward, we stand on the shoulders of these astronauts and
the thousands of people who supported them on the ground - as well as
those who cheered their triumphs and mourned their tragedies.

This final shuttle flight marks the end of an era, but today, we
recommit ourselves to continuing human spaceflight and taking the
necessary-and difficult-steps to ensure America's leadership in human
spaceflight for years to come.

I want to send American astronauts where we've never been before by
focusing our resources on exploration and innovation, while
leveraging private sector support to take Americans to the
International Space Station in low Earth orbit.

With the bold path President Obama and Congress have set us on, we
will continue the grand tradition of exploration.

Children who dream of being astronauts today may not fly on the space
shuttle . . . but, one day, they may walk on Mars. The future belongs
to us. And just like those who came before us, we have an obligation
to set an ambitious course and take an inspired nation along for the
journey.

I'm ready to get on with the next big challenge.

The future is bright for human spaceflight and for NASA. American
ingenuity is alive and well. And it will fire up our economy and help
us win the future, but only if we dream big and imagine endless
possibilities. That future begins today.

[Video Link] "And I think it's gonna be a long long time / 'til touchdown brings me 'round again to find / I'm not the man they think I am at home / Oh no no no, I'm a rocket man..."

(via Kristie LuStout)