With the safe landing of shuttle Atlantis this morning in the early dawn light at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an era rolled to a close along with the orbiter itself.
“After serving the world for 30 years, the space shuttle has found its place in history,” commented Christopher Ferguson, the astronaut who commanded Atlantis' final mission, by radio to mission control. “Wheels stop.” Atlantis came to rest at 5:58 a.m. EDT, after a flight of 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes and 55 seconds. It was Atlantis' 33rd flight, and the 135th mission of the space shuttle program. During the 30 year lifespan of the shuttle program, nearly 200 satellites, probes and spacecraft were brought to space by the fleet of orbiters.
NASA, as an entity, no doubt had a heavy heart (though doubtless the event will prompt quite a few retirements of personnel waiting for the close of the program to file their retirement paperwork).
As the orbiters themselves are prepared to become museum pieces around the country, NASA will undergo some drastic changes, both in personnel and in the facility. (Though NASA will continue, of course, to launch unmanned rockets for scientific, commercial and military purposes in the interim.)
The space shuttle Mission Control room – built 16 years ago specifically for shuttle flights – at NASA in Houston will likely seem like a ghost town after over a decade and a half of preparing for and choreographing shuttle flights. NASA reportedly plans to turn the room into a training venue, mostly for astronauts going to the International Space Station (ISS) and flight controllers working with the station. (The original Apollo-era Mission Control room remains preserved in the building as a kind of museum to early spaceflight).
Lay-offs will be unavoidable, and over the next couple of months, 800 or 900 people in the mission operations division alone will be let go, said Paul Hill, head of that division and a former flight director himself. A few lucky personnel will move to Mission Control for the International Space Station (ISS) which is located in a separate room within the same building, reported the Associated Press.
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