Thursday, 21 July 2011

Shuttle slips into history

The iconic soul and heart of the US space programme for the past three decades slipped gracefully into history this morning.

Space Shuttle Atlantis swept into the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) making a poignant touchdown on a dark runway just before sunrise at 0557 local time.

Despite the dark pre-dawn skies over Florida large crowds came out to try to glimpse Atlantis as it made its historic return from orbit.

Its de-orbit track brought the orbiter across central Florida and then over Titusville before a hard bank to the left put the vehicle on a line to Runway 15 at KSC.

Touch-down marked a moment of high emotion for the local region - not least because it will trigger a big lay-off of contractor staff. Several thousand involved in Shuttle operations will lose their jobs within days.

Launching people into space is a potent symbol of technological and engineering prowess - but for the Space Shuttle programme it was the pre-dawn landing of Atlantis that truly signalled the end.

"When the wheels stopped on the runway, the displays went blank and the orbiter was unpowered for the final time there was a rush of emotion," said commander Chris ‘Fergie' Fergueson after stepping from the orbiter.

"That was the moment when we all finally realised that it's all over, the crowning jewel of our space programme.

"The Space Shuttle changed the way we view the world and it changed the way we view the Universe."

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