Space shuttle Atlantis and six astronauts ended a journey of more than 4.8 million miles Wednesday with an 8:48 a.m. EDT touchdown at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flawless landing wrapped up a highly successful mission to deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, known as "Rassvet" ("dawn" in Russian), to the International Space Station.
"It was smooth as silk," STS-132 Commander Ken Ham said of Atlantis' entry and landing. "We were clearly riding in the middle of a fireball, and it was spectacular. The windows, all of them, were bright, brilliant orange. One of the neatest things was when we flew right into orbital sunrise."
This was the final scheduled flight for Atlantis, which has logged more than 120 million miles during its 25 years of service. The orbiter will go through standard prelaunch preparations as the "launch-on-need" vehicle for Endeavour's STS-134 mission. That flight currently is targeted for November.
The all-veteran astronaut crew headed home to Houston on Thursday. The public is invited to attend the welcome ceremony for the crew Thursday at 4 p.m. CDT at Ellington Field's NASA Hangar 276.
"We're thrilled, because we accomplished the mission that was put in front of us," Ham said. He explained that in addition to the technical objectives of the 12-day mission, the astronauts also wanted to enjoy themselves and share their enthusiasm of spaceflight with the world.
"We've been hearing stories about how folks have been having fun and enjoyed watching us have fun, and that's really important to us."