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Space shuttle Atlantis comes home, ends 30-year era

July 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Space shuttle Atlantis made its last landing Thursday morning, ending NASA's 30-year shuttle program.

Atlantis and its four astronauts arrived in Florida at 2:56 a.m. PT. A record 2,000 people lined up on Cape Canaveral to watch the space shuttle program officially end.

"Mission complete, Houston. After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle's earned its place in history, and it's come to a final stop," Atlantis commander Christopher Ferguson said upon landing.

The next-to-youngest shuttle will remain at Kennedy Space Center and be put on display.

Atlantis performed admirably during the 13-day flight. It restocked the International Space Station with a year's worth of food and supplies, just in case upcoming deliveries get delayed.

It was a day to celebrate the accomplishments of the astronauts, but it's also a sad realization that thousands of NASA employees will be laid off.

NASA's administrator said relying on private companies to carry people and goods to space will be more cost effective.

The space station's international partners - Russia, Europe and Japan - will continue to carry up cargo loads. And Russia will keep launching American astronauts to the orbiting lab until private industry is ready to fly people up in three to five years.

The U.S. will pay Russia $63 million an astronaut to ride on that country's shuttles.

American shuttles will only be seen in museums. Space shuttle Endeavour will be displayed at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Space Exploration Technologies, which often goes by the name SpaceX, is lining up for the first private visit to the space station. SpaceX hopes to launch astronauts into space in a few years from U.S. soil.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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