Today marks, the end of the Space Shuttle STS135, the mission name for the final shuttle mission of Atlantis, the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station on July 10, positioning the astronauts for the work they would do on the shuttle program's final flight.
The Space Shuttle program began in 1981, and ran for an impressive thirty years; the longest any space flight program has ever run. The first fully functional shuttle was the Columbia, which launched on 12 April, 1981. This was followed by four more shuttles, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis. The orbiters were built with the purpose of creating a reusable ship that could perform short distance space operations such as launching satellites, performing experiments in space and servicing satellites such as the Hubble Telescope.
The Space Shuttle program was always destined to be retired in 2011, but was scheduled to be replaced with Project Constellation which was intended "to gain significant experience in operating away from Earth's environment, develop technologies needed for opening the space frontier, and conduct fundamental science." The destiny of the crafts is now museums across the US, as they are decommissioned and made safe for the public to view over the coming days.
The shuttle then undocked from the space station yesterday before heading home for a Thursday landing on Earth.
According to the new program, deep space flight may not be possible until 2030 at the earliest.
In the final words of the NASA team from the live feed today, "Job well done, America."
Here are a few photos released by NASA of that routine, yet momentous event: