Atlantis makes last journey home, shuttle era ends (UPDATE)
previous news was posted at 14:59
The Atlantis returned to Earth early Thursday, marking the end of the space shuttle era when its wheels touched down for the last time at the Kennedy Space Centre, DPA reported.
The shuttle's parachute slowed it to a stop on an illuminated runway before dawn as hundreds of NASA employees and guests gathered at the space centre and at mission control in Houston to witness the historic moment. They were greeted by a sonic boom as Atlantis flew overhead.
"Having fired the imagination of a generation, its place in history secured, Atlantis pulls into port for the last time. Its voyage is at an end," mission control said as the shuttle pulled to a stop.
"After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It's come to a final stop," Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson replied.
The craft had changed the way humans view their world and the universe, he said as he acknowledged each shuttle, including the Challenger and Columbia, which were lost in accidents.
The Atlantis was making the final flight for NASA's 30-year-old fleet of reusable spacecraft before the programme is retired.
Atlantis brought more than 4 metric tons of cargo and spare parts to outfit the International Space Station for a year. The shuttle is the only spacecraft big enough to haul such heavy loads, though Russian, European and Japanese craft can still fly smaller, lighter cargo to the station.
Its four-member crew spent 13 days in space.
Atlantis and the other remaining orbiters - Discovery, Endeavour and the test vehicle Enterprise - will be outfitted for display in museums.