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Space Shuttle Atlantis Lands for the Last Time

NASA/Bill Ingalls(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- For the last time, space shuttle Atlantis returned back to Earth early Thursday morning after embarking on a 13-day mission to the International Space Station.

Atlantis and its four-man crew -- Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim -- landed safely at 5:57 a.m. EDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Reaching for the ground ... shuttle Atlantis headed for the runway," ABC's Vic Ratner, who called the landing, said as the shuttle was approaching the space center.

"Main gear touch down," announced Mission Control.

"Main gear touch down tells you it's home safe, home after more than 5 million miles in space on this mission," Ratner continued.  "Rolling out on the runway in front of me to the cheers and applause of the crowds around me. ... The final landing of the space shuttle program after 30 years of history."

With Thursday's landing, NASA's space shuttle program has officially come to an end.

After 135 flights in 30 years, the space shuttles are now history.  NASA said before landing that with Atlantis' flight over, the five shuttle orbiters would together have traveled 537,114,016 miles in orbit.  Three hundred and thirty-five astronauts have flown on them; 14 died when the shuttles Columbia and Challenger were lost.

Atlantis alone made 33 flights, carried 191 space fliers, spent 307 days in orbit, circled Earth 4,848 times and put 125,935,769 miles on its odometer.

The three surviving shuttles will now become museum pieces.  Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center visitors' center.  Its seniormost sister ship, Discovery, goes to the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, and Endeavour will be sent to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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