"The space shuttle has changed the way we view the world and it's changed the way we view our universe," said shuttle commander Chris Ferguson. "There's a lot of emotion today, but one thing's indisputable. America's not going to stop exploring."
"Thank you Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and our ship Atlantis. Thank you for protecting us and bringing this program to such a fitting end," Ferguson said.
Atlantis lifted off on July 8 from Kennedy Space Center. It was the 135th and final flight in NASA's shuttle program. Its primary payload was an Italian-built cargo hauler named Raffaello, which carried about 4,000 kg of food, clothing, supplies and science equipment to sustain space station operations after the shuttles are retired.
Only four astronauts crewed the last mission because there is no shuttle available for a rescue flight. The crew returned an ammonia pump that recently failed on the station. Engineers want to understand why the pump failed and improve designs for future spacecraft. The crew also helped space station crew attach a Robotic Refueling Module experiment to the station, which aims to test technologies for repairing and refueling satellites in space.
Atlantis, the last of the three surviving shuttles to be retired, spent a total of 307 days in space during its operational life, orbited Earth 4,848 times and traveled almost 126 million miles (202.78 million kilometers). The Discovery shuttle was retired in March and Endeavour at the start of June. Each shuttle will head to a museum. Russia's Soyuz capsule is now the only method for transporting astronauts to and from the station.