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Space shuttle Atlantis returns to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
Wheels stop - end of an era
Shuttle missions come to an end
21st July 2011
Soaring across the predawn haze, Atlantis returned to Earth in a fiery plume -- capping a 30-year program that saw hundreds of astronauts go into space
Atlantis has completed its 13-day mission to the space station; and, more significantly, close the book on NASA's shuttle programme. The ship and its crew of four landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida just before sunrise, local time (0957.18 GMT; 1057.18 BST).
Commander Chris Ferguson was at the controls for the final approach, with pilot Doug Hurley beside him. Mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim were sitting directly behind on the flight deck. The de-orbit track brought Atlantis in from the southern Pacific, across El Salvador and the Gulf of Mexico, across Florida and the city of Titusville before a hard bank to the left to put the ship on a line to Runway 15 at Kennedy.
Atlantis' landing means the United States has no way to lift humans into space for the first time in decades, leaving Russia as the only option to ferry American astronauts to orbit.
The first shuttle, Columbia, blasted off in April 1981. Since then, space shuttle crews have fixed satellites, performed scientific studies, and ferried materials and people to International Space Station Alpha, a football field-sized construction project in orbit.
NASA has sent five space shuttles on a total of 135 missions.