Space Shuttle Atlantis Back Home, End Of 30-year Era

Space shuttle Atlantis is back on Earth, ending the shuttle era.

Atlantis and its four astronauts glided through the twilight Thursday and landed in Florida shortly before sunrise. Hundreds gathered near the runway to welcome Atlantis home and to bid NASA's 30-year space shuttle program goodbye.

Atlantis' successful space station restocking mission closed out the shuttle era.

As Atlantis landed applause erupted at NASA's Mission Control in Houston but, it wasn't from the two dozen men and one woman working the final flight.

The applause and emotion came from the flight controllers' families. The controllers themselves didn't show any reaction as they worked to bring the shuttle in for its final landing. But, nine minutes later, the emotions started to come to the surface. That's when controllers stood up, shook hands, laughed a bit, patted each other on their backs and signed memorabilia.

Even though some of them will lose their jobs and the shuttle era ended, tears were absent.

Now the next-to-youngest shuttle will remain at Kennedy Space Center and be put on display.
As for NASA, its next stop with astronauts will be an asteroid, then Mars. Private companies will take over trips to the International Space Station.