After dodging potentially inclement weather and launching elegantly from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, the space shuttle Atlantis has completed the first part of its final mission by docking with the International Space Station (ISS).
“Welcome to the International Space Station for the last time,” said facility flight engineer Ron Garan as NASA’s orbiter completed Sunday’s delicate coupling procedure—which was preceded by a visual inspection of the shuttle’s delicate heat shield.
Once the shuttle’s 12-day mission is over and Atlantis touches down for the final time, it will join fellow fleet members Endeavour and Discovery in becoming a tourist attraction at a prominent U.S. museum.
As a result, NASA will be left without a serviceable form of transportation to and from the International Space Station until at least 2015, which is when private industry contractors are expected to supply a new capsule-based system.
According to U.S. President Barack Obama, the next stage of NASA’s technological and scientific evolution will see America landing astronauts on asteroids and also on the surface of Mars.