May 26, 2010 9:43 AM by Bea Karnes, News First 5
Space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth with 6 astronauts, perhaps ending the flying career of this shuttle. Atlantis logged its 120-millionth mile shortly after midnight, accumulated over 32 flights.
Only two shuttle missions remain, by NASA's two other spaceships. NASA is pushing for one more flight for Atlantis, which would need White House approval.
The astronauts accomplished everything they set out to do on the 12-day flight and did it with humor. When Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert called to chat Tuesday, the one-liners zipped back and forth.
"We've got a new antenna on the space station, a new six-pack of batteries, a new module docked to the station, and generally have defeated the forces of evil, so we're very happy about how things have gone," said spaceman Garrett Reisman.
The crew turned serious, though, when they reflected on Atlantis' quarter-century of service and the impending end of the space shuttle program.
"I hope that when she lands successfully - which I'm relying on these guys up front to do - that she'll go somewhere and get the respect she deserves as a ship of exploration," said astronaut Piers Sellers, nodding to the pilots on board. He's flown on Atlantis twice.
Once Atlantis is back in its hangar, it will be prepped for a potential rescue mission for what's currently slated to be the final shuttle flight, by Endeavour. Endeavour's trip is targeted for November, but NASA managers will reassess the date in another week or two.
The only other flight on the books is a supply run to the space station by Discovery in September. That date also is being evaluated.
Both of those missions have payload issues that are threatening to cause delays.
NASA would like to fly Atlantis again in June 2011, provided no rescue mission is needed for Endeavour's flight.