CAPE CANAVERAL (US): The shuttle Atlantis made its final laps around the Earth today as the NASA prepared to bring the curtain down on the 30-year luminary of US human spaceflight.
The shuttle was set to touch down early Thursday at 5:56 am (0956 GMT), 42 years after US astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission.
Atlantis’s landing will end an era of US dominance in human space exploration, leaving Russia as the sole taxi to the International Space Station until a replacement US capsule can be built by private industry.
The crew of four US astronauts aboard Atlantis on the mission known as STS-135 savored their final hours in orbit after a successful trip to restock the ISS for a year with several tons of supplies and food.
Final inspections of the shuttle’s heat shield, which protects the spacecraft during its fiery transition into Earth’s atmosphere, were completed Wednesday and NASA said the spacecraft looked to be in good shape for landing.
The weather forecast was also “very favorable” at Kennedy Space Center, NASA said.
The shuttle was scheduled to begin its deorbit burn at 4:49 am (0849 GMT) to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, with a first landing opportunity at 5:56 am.
If conditions do not allow for the first attempt, a second opportunity for deorbit would begin at 6:25 am (1025 GMT) with the landing at 7:32 am (1132 GMT).
“Forty-two years ago today, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and I consider myself fortunate that I was there to actually remember the event,” Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson said to mission control, recalling the images of July 20, 1969.
“It is kind of interesting to be here on the final night of the shuttle mission. We don’t quite know what to think. We are just trying to take it all in.”
Source : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/Shuttle-Atlantis-counts-down-to-final-landing/articleshow/9306183.cms