By the light of a waning moon, the shuttle Atlantis fell back to Earth Thursday, dropping out of predawn darkness to close out NASA's 135th and final shuttle voyage, a long-awaited -- and long-dreaded -- milestone marking the end of an era for American manned space flight.

Coming home to a future clouded by tight budgets and uncertain political support, commander Christopher Ferguson guided Atlantis through a sweeping left overhead turn and lined up on runway 15, quickly descending into the glare of powerful xenon spotlights.

Approaching the 3-mile-long runway, Ferguson pulled the shuttle's nose up in a graceful flare, pilot Douglas Hurley lowered the ship's landing gear and Atlantis settled to a tire-smoking touchdown at 5:57:00 a.m. EDT (GMT-4). A few seconds later, as Atlantis barreled down the runway at more than 200 mph, Hurley deployed a red-and-white braking parachute and the shuttle's nose gear settled to the runway.

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1135 GMT (7:35 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts climbed aboard the AstroVan for the ride to the crew quarters building where they will be reunited with family members and have some dinner. Their post-landing news conference is expected around 12 noon EDT today.

They will spend the night here before returning to Houston for a welcome ceremony at about 4 p.m. local time Friday at Ellington Field's Hangar 990.

1120 GMT (7:20 a.m. EDT)
The crew looks to be in great shape after nearly two weeks off the planet.
1116 GMT (7:16 a.m. EDT)
The four astronauts have walked down the stairs from the Crew Transport Vehicle for the traditional walkaround look at the space shuttle on the runway. There to greet them is NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, KSC Center Director Bob Cabana, shuttle program manager John Shannon, launch director Mike Leinbach, Atlantis flow manager Angie Brewer, plus other space officials.
1100 GMT (7:00 a.m. EDT)
The Houston control room is overflowing with team members marking the end of the space shuttle program, complete with a decorated cake.
1055 GMT (6:55 a.m. EDT)
The Mission Control Center in Houston is handing over shuttle Atlantis to the landing convoy at Kennedy Space Center.
1045 GMT (6:45 a.m. EDT)
All four astronauts have exited the space shuttle. They are inside the Crew Transport Vehicle -- a modified airport "People Mover" -- that pulled up to the side hatch for the astronauts to enter. The CTV features beds and comfortable seats for the astronauts to receive medical checks after returning to Earth's gravity from the weightless environment of space.
1043 GMT (6:43 a.m. EDT)
Commander Chris Ferguson has turned the spacecraft over to the astronaut support personnel now aboard the shuttle. He's about to climb out of Atlantis.
1038 GMT (6:38 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts are beginning to egress the orbiter. Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus are off the vehicle.
1037 GMT (6:37 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts are nearly complete with the post-landing procedures, which have progressed smoothly this morning.
1035 GMT (6:35 a.m. EDT)
Ground technicians estimate the tow of Atlantis off the runway will start around 10 a.m. EDT.
1030 GMT (6:30 a.m. EDT)
The mobile steps have been positioned next to Atlantis' hatch along with the Crew Transport Vehicle for the astronauts to enter.
1027 GMT (6:27 a.m. EDT)
The ship's flight computers are transitioning to the OPS-901 software package.
1024 GMT (6:24 a.m. EDT)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden today issued this statement about the final landing of the Space Shuttle Program:

At today's final landing of the space shuttle, we had the rare opportunity to witness history. We turned the page on a remarkable era and began the next chapter in our nation's extraordinary story of exploration.

The brave astronauts of STS-135 are emblematic of the shuttle program. Skilled professionals from diverse backgrounds who propelled America to continued leadership in space with the shuttle's many successes. It is my great honor today to welcome them home.

I salute them and all of the men and women who have flown shuttle missions since the very first launch on April 12, 1981.

The shuttle program brought our nation many firsts. Many proud moments, some of which I was privileged to experience myself as a shuttle commander. I was proud to be part of the shuttle program and will carry those experiences with me for the rest of my life.

As we move forward, we stand on the shoulders of these astronauts and the thousands of people who supported them on the ground - as well as those who cheered their triumphs and mourned their tragedies.

This final shuttle flight marks the end of an era, but today, we recommit ourselves to continuing human spaceflight and taking the necessary-and difficult-steps to ensure America's leadership in human spaceflight for years to come.

I want to send American astronauts where we've never been before by focusing our resources on exploration and innovation, while leveraging private sector support to take Americans to the International Space Station in low Earth orbit.

With the bold path President Obama and Congress have set us on, we will continue the grand tradition of exploration.

Children who dream of being astronauts today may not fly on the space shuttle . . . but, one day, they may walk on Mars. The future belongs to us. And just like those who came before us, we have an obligation to set an ambitious course and take an inspired nation along for the journey.

I'm ready to get on with the next big challenge.

The future is bright for human spaceflight and for NASA. American ingenuity is alive and well. And it will fire up our economy and help us win the future, but only if we dream big and imagine endless possibilities. That future begins today.

1020 GMT (6:20 a.m. EDT)
Feel free to share your thoughts about this morning's landing and the space shuttle program's ending at our Facebook page.
1018 GMT (6:18 a.m. EDT)
The APU shutdown has been completed by pilot Doug Hurley. The orbiter's familiar "chugging" sound has fallen silent.
1016 GMT (6:16 a.m. EDT)
The main engine nozzles have been repositioned, or gimbaled, to the "rain drain" orientation. And now the hydraulics are no longer required, so Atlantis' three Auxiliary Power Units are being shut down.
1015 GMT (6:15 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts were just given permission to remove their entry spacesuits.
1014 GMT (6:14 a.m. EDT)
Here are the landing times in Eastern Daylight Time and Mission Elapsed Time:
Main Gear Touchdown
5:57:00 a.m. EDT
MET: 12 days, 18 hours, 27 minutes, 56 seconds

Nose Gear Touchdown
5:57:20 a.m. EDT
MET: 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes, 16 seconds

Wheels Stop
5:57:54 a.m. EDT
MET: 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes, 50 seconds
1012 GMT (6:12 a.m. EDT)
On the runway, technicians are using instruments to "sniff" the shuttle's exterior to check for any hazardous vapors.
1008 GMT (6:08 a.m. EDT)
"Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, it's place in history secured, the space shuttle pulls into port for the last time, its voyage at an end," NASA commentator Rob Navias said as he called the landing from Mission Control.

"Mission complete, Houston," Chris Ferguson radioed at wheels 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."

"We copy your wheels stopped, and we'll take this opportunity to congratulate you, Atlantis, as well as the thousands of passionate individuals across this great, space faring nation who truly empower this incredible spacecraft, which for three decades has inspired millions around the globe," replied CAPCOM Butch Wilmore from Houston. "Job well done."

"Hey thanks, Butch, great words, great words," Ferguson said. "You know, the space shuttle has changed the way we view the world and it's changed the way we view our universe. There are a lot of emotions today, but one things 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. God bless all of you, God bless the United States of America."

1007 GMT (6:07 a.m. EDT)
The pyrotechnics for the crew module hatch, landing gear and drag chute have been safed, commander Chris Ferguson reports.
1005 GMT (6:05 a.m. EDT)
The external tank umbilical doors on the shuttle's belly have been opened and the body flap set by pilot Doug Hurley.
1002 GMT (6:02 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts are beginning standard post-landing activities to safe the spacecraft.
1001 GMT (6:01 a.m. EDT)
The crew has established radio contact with the landing convoy and began the post-landing procedures on Atlantis.
0957 GMT (5:57 a.m. EDT)
WHEELS STOP. The space shuttle program is over.

The 30 years of flight on 135 missions traveled 542,398,878 miles and 21,152 orbits of the planet, carrying 355 humans and 3.5 million pounds of payloads as America's Space Transportation System.

0957 GMT (5:57 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is back at the Kennedy Space Center after a mission that spanned 200 orbits of the planet and 5,284,862 miles to complete one last logistics run to the bolster the future health of the International Space Station.

This orbiter flew 33 times in its quarter-century of spaceflight, accumulating 307 days in space, 4,848 orbits and 125,935,769 miles traveled.

0957 GMT (5:57 a.m. EDT)
TOUCHDOWN! Main gear touchdown. Pilot Doug Hurley is putting out the drag chute as commander Chris Ferguson brings the nose gear to the surface of Runway 15.
0956 GMT (5:56 a.m. EDT)
Pilot Doug Hurley is deploying the landing gear. Standing by for touchdown at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility.
0956 GMT (5:56 a.m. EDT)
Now descending through 2,000 feet in altitude.
0956 GMT (5:56 a.m. EDT)
Wings are level on final approach.
0956 GMT (5:56 a.m. EDT)
Altitude 8,000 feet. The shuttle descending at a rate seven times steeper than that of a commercial airliner.
0955 GMT (5:55 a.m. EDT)
Field in sight. Commander Chris Ferguson reports he can see the runway as he guides Atlantis to landing.
0955 GMT (5:55 a.m. EDT)
Less than 90 degrees left in this turn. Atlantis is right on track.
0954 GMT (5:54 a.m. EDT)
Pilot Doug Hurley taking a few seconds of stick time.
0954 GMT (5:54 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is in the Heading Alignment Cylinder, an imaginary circle to align with Runway 15. Commander Chris Ferguson is piloting Atlantis through a 240-degree left overhead turn to loop around for landing on the northwest to southeast runway.
0952 GMT (5:52 a.m. EDT)
Four minutes to landing.
0953 GMT (5:53 a.m. EDT)
The twin sonic booms have rumbled across the Kennedy Space Center area, announcing the shuttle's arrival.
0953 GMT (5:53 a.m. EDT)
Commander Chris Ferguson has taken manual control of Atlantis for landing.
0951 GMT (5:51 a.m. EDT)
Long-range cameras at the landing site have spotted the approaching spacecraft.
0951 GMT (5:51 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is 64,000 feet in altitude.
0950 GMT (5:50 a.m. EDT)
The spacecraft remains on course. The crew has been given a "go" for normal deployment of the drag chute after main gear touchdown.
0950 GMT (5:50 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is 69 miles from the runway, traveling at Mach 2.5.
0949 GMT (5:49 a.m. EDT)
The International Space Station is visible as it passes overhead the Kennedy Space Center.
0948 GMT (5:48 a.m. EDT)
Eight minutes to go. Air data probes are being deployed from the shuttle's nose to feed air speed, altitude and angle of attack information to the computers for navigation.
0947 GMT (5:47 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is in Florida airspace. The shuttle is 24 miles in altitude, 200 miles from the runway.
0946 GMT (5:46 a.m. EDT)
Ten minutes from landing. Atlantis has reached southwest Florida and the Everglades. The flight path will go just west of Lake Okeechobee and up the state northward toward Brevard County.
0945 GMT (5:45 a.m. EDT)
Now 12 minutes from touchdown. Mission Control computes Atlantis will land 2,200 feet down the runway at 205 knots.
0944 GMT (5:44 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is 31 miles in altitude, 450 miles from the runway, traveling at Mach 10.
0943 GMT (5:43 a.m. EDT)
The space shuttle is going west of Cuba.
0943 GMT (5:43 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is 34 miles in altitude, 700 miles from the runway, traveling at Mach 14.
0942 GMT (5:42 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle continues to soar over the Caribbean.
0941 GMT (5:41 a.m. EDT)
After flying over Honduras, Atlantis has emerged out over the Caribbean Sea, paralleling the Yucatan Peninsula.
0940 GMT (5:40 a.m. EDT)
International Space Station resident Mike Fossum reports having seen the shuttle's re-entry plasma trail from the Cupola windows.
0939 GMT (5:39 a.m. EDT)
The space shuttle is approaching landfall in the skies over El Salvador. The spacecraft will cross Honduras in a few moments.
0938 GMT (5:38 a.m. EDT)
"We are doing fantastic. I wish we could share with everybody the really cool glow. It's just amazing outside," commander Chris Ferguson just radioed.
0937 GMT (5:37 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is experiencing the period of peak heating during re-entry.
0936 GMT (5:36 a.m. EDT)
Now 20 minutes from landing. The shuttle just passed due west of the Galapagos Islands.
0935 GMT (5:35 a.m. EDT)
The spacecraft is now 2,300 miles from the runway, traveling at Mach 22.
0933 GMT (5:33 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is 46 miles in altitude, 3,000 miles from the runway.
0931 GMT (5:31 a.m. EDT)
Time to touchdown now 25 minutes. Atlantis is continues its plunge over the Pacific Ocean.
0930 GMT (5:30 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is in the midst of the four banks to scrub off speed as it descends into the atmosphere. These turns basically remove the energy vehicle built up during launch.
0926 GMT (5:26 a.m. EDT)
Now 30 minutes from touchdown as Atlantis plunges into the upper atmosphere. The path will take the spacecraft from the Pacific to Florida on a northeasterly trajectory toward the landing site. See ground track.
0925 GMT (5:25 a.m. EDT)
ENTRY INTERFACE. Atlantis' thermal protection system is feeling heat beginning to build as the orbiter enters the top fringes of the atmosphere -- a period known as entry interface.

The shuttle is flying at Mach 25 with its nose elevated 40 degrees, wings level, at an altitude of 400,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean.

Touchdown remains set for 5:56 a.m. EDT in Florida.

0921 GMT (5:21 a.m. EDT)
Now 35 minutes left to go. This will be the 78th shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center and the 20th to occur in darkness.

The Florida spaceport's Shuttle Landing Facility was built in 1975. The concrete strip is 300 feet wide and 15,000 feet long with 1,000-foot overruns at each end. The runway is located about three miles northwest of the 525-foot tall Vehicle Assembly Building.

Atlantis is targeting Runway 15, which is the northwest to southeast approach. The shuttle will make a 240-degree right overhead turn to align with the runway.

0916 GMT (5:16 a.m. EDT)
Now 40 minutes to touchdown. Onboard guidance has maneuvered Atlantis from its heads-down, tail-forward position needed for the deorbit burn to the re-entry configuration of heads-up and nose-forward. The nose will be pitched upward 40 degrees. In this new position, the black tiles on the shuttle's belly and the reinforced carbon-carbon panels on the wing leading edges and nose cap will shield the spacecraft during the fiery plunge through the Earth's atmosphere with temperatures reaching well over 2,000 degrees F. Atlantis will begin interacting with the upper fringes of the atmosphere above the South Pacific at 5:25 a.m. EDT.
0912 GMT (5:12 a.m. EDT)
All three Auxiliary Power Units are up and running now.
0906 GMT (5:06 a.m. EDT)
Now 50 minutes from touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center to conclude Atlantis' 12-day, 18-hour and 27-minute flight. The orbiter will weigh 226,375 pounds at landing, which is 39,715 pounds lighter than when it launched.
0900 GMT (5:00 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is passing more than 200 miles over Australia.
0856 GMT (4:56 a.m. EDT)
Sixty minutes to touchdown. Atlantis is maneuvering to the orientation for entry. The shuttle will hit the upper atmosphere at 5:25 a.m.
0852 GMT (4:52 a.m. EDT)
DEORBIT BURN COMPLETE. Atlantis has successfully completed the deorbit burn for the trip back home. Landing is scheduled for 5:56 a.m. EDT at the Cape to conclude this mission that delivered a year's worth of provisions to the space station.
0850 GMT (4:50 a.m. EDT)
Both engines continue to fire, each producing about 6,000 pounds of thrust.
0849 GMT (4:49 a.m. EDT)
DEORBIT BURN IGNITION. Flying upside down and backwards above the Indian Ocean near northwestern Indonesia, Atlantis has begun the deorbit burn. The firing of the twin Orbital Maneuvering System engines on the tail of the shuttle will last three minutes and 16 seconds, slowing the craft by 225 mph to slip from orbit. The retro-burn will send Atlantis to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a pinpoint touchdown at 5:56 a.m. EDT.
0848 GMT (4:48 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is in the proper configuration for the deorbit burn, Mission Control has confirmed for the crew.
0845 GMT (4:45 a.m. EDT)
Pilot Doug Hurley is activating one of three Auxiliary Power Units in advance of the burn, now four minutes away. The other two APUs will be started later in the descent to provide pressure needed to power shuttle's hydraulic systems that move the wing flaps, rudder/speed brake, drop the landing gear and steer the nose wheel. NASA ensures that at least one APU is working before conducting to the deorbit burn since the shuttle needs only a single unit to make a safe landing.
0830 GMT (4:30 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is getting maneuvered into the proper orientation for the deorbit burn.
0826 GMT (4:26 a.m. EDT)
Now 90 minutes to touchdown as Atlantis flies high over Europe.
0812 GMT (4:12 a.m. EDT)
GO FOR THE DEORBIT BURN! Entry flight director Tony Ceccacci in Mission Control just gave final approval for Atlantis to perform the deorbit burn at 4:49:04 a.m. EDT that will commit the spacecraft for the journey back to Earth.

Touchdown in Florida on Runway 15 is set for 5:56 a.m. EDT, completing the 135th and final mission for the space shuttle program.

0811 GMT (4:11 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis has begun the final orbit of the mission. This is the 21,152nd orbit by a space shuttle.
0810 GMT (4:10 a.m. EDT)
Pilot Doug Hurley has completed the OMS engine gimbal check. The Auxiliary Power Unit prestart is underway.
0809 GMT (4:09 a.m. EDT)
The Spaceflight Meteorology Group reports current observed conditions and the forecast are "go" for Atlantis' return to the Kennedy Space Center.
0753 GMT (3:53 a.m. EDT)
The deorbit preparation checklist has been completed by the crew, now moving into the re-entry procedures book.
0749 GMT (3:49 a.m. EDT)
Now one hour from the deorbit burn.
0743 GMT (3:43 a.m. EDT)
The crew has been given a "go" to start the "fluid loading" protocol. That involves drinking large amounts of liquids and salt tablets to assist in the readaptation to Earth's gravity.

This "go" from Mission Control is seen as a good step toward an on-time landing. Houston typically doesn't force the crew into fluid loading unless deorbit looks at least possible.

Water, orange, lemonade, lemon-lime, grape and tropical punch drinks are on the menu for the astronauts to pick from.

0740 GMT (3:40 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle's toilet has been deactivated for landing as the crew marches through the final steps to ready the spacecraft to fly home. Next, the astronauts will complete one more alignment of the inertial measurement units in the orbiter's navigation system.
0726 GMT (3:26 a.m. EDT)
Now two-and-a-half hours from touchdown. Weather remains perfect and no technical problems are being worked by Mission Control.
0724 GMT (3:24 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis now crossing over the heart of Australia at an altitude of 243 miles.
0715 GMT (3:15 a.m. EDT)
The latest data from Mission Control shows the upcoming deorbit burn ignition time will be 4:49:04 a.m. EDT. The twin braking rockets will fire for three minutes and 16 seconds, slowing the shuttle by about 331 feet per second, just enough to slip out of orbit.

Once in range of the Kennedy Space Center, commander Chris Ferguson will perform a 240-degree left overhead turn to align with Runway 15 for touchdown at 5:56 a.m. EDT.

The total mission duration will be 12 days, 18 hours and 27 minutes.

0710 GMT (3:10 a.m. EDT)
NASA astronaut Rick Sturckow is airborne at the Kennedy Space Center in the Shuttle Training Aircraft to fly weather reconnaissance around the Florida spaceport today. Earlier this morning, he was flying in a T-38 jet to examine how the weather situation was developing.

The Shuttle Training Aircraft is a modified Gulfstream jet that offers a close simulation to the flying characteristics of a space shuttle during landing.

0700 GMT (3:00 a.m. EDT)
Current observed weather conditions at the runway include clear skies, good visibility and one-knot of wind.
0642 GMT (2:42 a.m. EDT)
The general purpose computers are running on OPS-3 now.
0635 GMT (2:35 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis has crossed the equator to begin Orbit 199, the penultimate orbit of the space shuttle program.
0623 GMT (2:23 a.m. EDT)
Mission Control has given the crew a "go" to transition the onboard computers from the OPS-2 software used during the shuttle's stay in space to OPS-3, which is the software package that governs entry and landing.
0617 GMT (2:17 a.m. EDT)
Space shuttle Atlantis' 60-foot-long payload bay doors have been closed and locked in preparation for today's descent into Earth's atmosphere and landing at Kennedy Space Center. The deorbit burn remains scheduled for 4:49 a.m., with touchdown at 5:56 a.m. EDT (0956 GMT).
0603 GMT (2:03 a.m. EDT)
Mission Control has given the "go" to the astronauts for payload bay door closing.

The crew has completed the steps to bypass the shuttle's radiators on the insides of the payload bay doors and checked out of the ship's flash evaporator cooling system for entry.

0525 GMT (1:25 a.m. EDT)
The orbiter's data processing system has been configured for re-entry and the ship's hydraulics are getting readied for activation later this morning. A minor communications issue with one of the Atlantis antennas isn't posing a problem.
0456 GMT (12:56 a.m. EDT)
Now five hours from touchdown. Mission specialist Sandy Magnus reports the middeck payloads are buttoned up and ready for entry.
0435 GMT (12:35 a.m. EDT)
The crew is putting away the flight plan and opening the deorbit preparation checklists.
0405 GMT (12:05 a.m. EDT)
Commander Chris Ferguson has performed an alignment of Atlantis' inertial measurement units in the ship's guidance system. The orbiter's general purpose computers have been configured as well. The backup flight systems will be powered up later this hour.
0403 GMT (12:03 a.m. EDT)
The official weather forecast for this morning's first landing opportunity calls for a few clouds at 5,000 feet and scattered clouds at 25,000 feet, good visibility and southwesterly winds from 240 degrees at 3 peaking to 4 knots.

The outlook for the landing opportunity one orbit later has the same conditions except the winds shift slightly to 260 degrees at 2 peaking to 3 knots.

0330 GMT (11:30 p.m. EDT Wed.)
"On an evening that is draped in emotion and steeped in history, down the hallowed halls of Mission Control here in Houston, this is likely the final shift in the history of space shuttle program..." says commentator Rob Navias.

The entry team of flight controllers has arrived inside Mission Control. Overseeing today's return of Atlantis is flight director Tony Ceccacci, a veteran controller of many shuttle missions and several of the recent landings. Seated alongside in Houston in direct radio contact with the shuttle crew is CAPCOM astronaut Butch Wilmore, a previous pilot of Atlantis.
0131 GMT (9:31 p.m. EDT Wed.)
The Atlantis astronauts have awakened to "God Bless America" to get the final space shuttle landing day underway.

The crew has a couple of hours to eat breakfast and go about their morning routine before beginning the deorbit preparation timeline at 12:54 a.m. EDT.

The ship's 60-foot-long payload bay doors are scheduled to be closed at 2:09 a.m., followed by the transition of onboard computers to the software for entry and the crew donning its spacesuits.

A final decision whether to land on time will come around 4:30 a.m., leading to ignition of Atlantis' braking rockets at 4:49 a.m. for three minutes to start the trek home. The shuttle would hit the upper atmosphere at 5:25 a.m.

Landing at the Kennedy Space Center is scheduled for 5:56 a.m. EDT.

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0030 GMT (8:30 p.m. EDT)
With forecasters predicting near ideal weather, entry Flight Director Tony Ceccacci said Wednesday he's optimistic about bringing the shuttle Atlantis back to a pre-dawn landing in Florida Thursday to close out NASA's 135th and final shuttle mission.

Read our full story.
Take a ride on the final space shuttle launch with remarkable footage captured from cameras mounted on the solid rocket boosters, external fuel tank and even inside Atlantis' cockpit looking back at the astronauts. Check out these amazing videos of the spacecraft soaring to orbit, which are presented here for Spaceflight Now+Plus users with launch audio.

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1534 GMT (11:34 a.m. EDT)
Space shuttle Atlantis' heat shield has been cleared for re-entry, CAPCOM Megan McArthur just told the astronauts. Yesterday's inspections of the wing leading edges and nose cap showed no concerns for any space debris impacts that could have occurred during the flight.
1520 GMT (11:20 a.m. EDT)
The Ku-band antenna assembly - used for high-speed communications and television downlink - is being retracting back into the payload bay, clearing the way for the doors to be closed Thursday morning for landing. This concludes live TV transmissions from the shuttle.
1430 GMT (10:30 a.m. EDT)
The latest version of the NASA Television schedule (Rev. N) can be downloaded here.
1120 GMT (7:20 a.m. EDT)
The crew of the shuttle Atlantis, working through one of the busiest days of their mission, tested the orbiter's re-entry systems Wednesday and packed up for landing Thursday to close out NASA's 135th and final shuttle mission.

Read our full story.
0930 GMT (5:30 a.m. EDT)
Here's an updated look at the available landing opportunities for space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the backup sites at Edwards Air Force Base in California and White Sands, New Mexico.

Only KSC will be called up Thursday. (all times EDT)


Thursday (nominal End of Mission)

200.....KSC....04:49:04 AM...05:56:58 AM
201.....KSC....06:25:44 AM...07:32:55 AM

Friday (EOM+1)
215.....KSC....03:51 AM......04:56 AM
216.....KSC....05:28 AM......06:31 AM
217.....EDW....06:58 AM......08:02 AM
........NOR....07:00 AM......08:04 AM
218.....EDW....08:35 AM......09:38 AM
........NOR....08:37 AM......09:40 AM	
219.....EDW....10:12 AM......11:15 AM

Saturday (EOM+2)

231.....KSC....04:26 AM......05:30 AM
232.....NOR....05:59 AM......07:03 AM
........KSC....06:03 AM......07:06 AM
233.....EDW....07:33 AM......08:37 AM
........NOR....07:35 AM......08:39 AM
234.....EDW....09:10 AM......10:13 AM
236.....KSC....11:34 AM......01:36 PM *

* Descending node entry
0749 GMT (3:49 a.m. EDT)
PICOSAT LAUNCHED! THE 180th payload successfully deployed from the space shuttle over the past three decades just occurred as the PicoSat was spring-ejected from the starboard sidewall carrier in Atlantis' payload bay.

Here's some background on the experimental satellite as provided by the NASA press kit:
The Pico-Satellite Solar Cell (PSSC 2) testbed is scheduled to be deployed after Atlantis undocks from the International Space Station during STS-135/ULF7, becoming the last satellite ever deployed by the space shuttle program. The satellite, also known as "PicoSat," will perform two DoD experiments during its in-orbit lifetime. First, the Miniature Tracking Vehicle (MTV) experiment goal is to demonstrate the capability of a nano-satellite to serve as an orbiting reference for ground tracking systems while demonstrating 3-axis attitude control, solid rocket propulsion for orbit modification, adaptive communications and active solar cell performance monitoring in a nanosatellite platform. An on-board Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver will provide accurate time and position information to facilitate tracking error analyses. The second experiment, Compact Total Electron Content Sensor (CTECS), will demonstrate a CubeSat form factor space weather sensor with the capability to detect ionospheric density. It uses a modified commercial GPS receiver to detect differences in radio signals generated by occulting GPS satellites.

The PicoSat is 5" x 5" x 10" and weighs 3.7 kg. It is integrated onto Atlantis for the STS-135 mission under the management and direction of the DoD Space Test Program's Houston office at NASA's Johnson Space Center. PicoSat will be ejected shortly before shuttle re-entry into a low (less than 360-km altitude) orbit with an expected orbital lifetime of three to nine months, depending on solar activity. Multiple on-board megapixel cameras will image Atlantis as the satellite departs, thus supplying the last in-orbit photos of NASA's workhorse human space transportation system for the last few decades.

After the satellite's orbit lowers for approximately one month, four ammonium perchlorate solid rocket motors will provide 40 Ns of impulse each and could extend orbital lifetime by an additional two months or alternatively, actively deorbit the satellite. The PSSC 2 bus, MTV and CTECS experiments will be controlled by a primary ground station at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, Calif., and secondary stations that comprise the Aerospace Corporation Internet-based Picosatellite Ground Station Network.
0625 GMT (2:25 a.m. EDT)
The flight control system checkout went well. The astronauts then performed the reaction control system hot-fire. The thrusters on the nose and tail of the shuttle were pulsed as part of the continuing entry and landing checks for tomorrow's homecoming by Atlantis.
0600 GMT (2:00 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts are checking out the onboard suite of sensors and navigation devices. Upcoming on the list of activities will be checking the entry-critical switches in the cockpit, testing the nose wheel steering system and evaluating the heads-up displays used during landing.
0526 GMT (1:26 a.m. EDT)
The crew has successfully completed the flight control system checkout, starting up Auxiliary Power Unit No. 1 for the orbiter's hydraulics and moving the aerosurfaces through a planned test pattern.
0430 GMT (12:30 a.m. EDT)
The specifics for tomorrow's two landing opportunities into the Kennedy Space Center: Orbit 200 begins with a deorbit burn at 4:49:04 a.m. EDT for touchdown on Runway 15 at 5:56:58 a.m. EDT, some 42 minutes before sunrise. The backup revolution on Orbit 201 has a deorbit at 625:44 a.m. and daytime landing at 7:32:55 a.m. EDT.
0400 GMT (12:00 a.m. EDT)
The latest version of the NASA Television schedule (Rev. M) can be downloaded here.
0300 GMT (11:00 p.m. EDT Tues.)
The Atlantis astronauts have awakened by Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" to begin their final full day in orbit. They are due to land Thursday morning at the Kennedy Space Center at 5:56 a.m. EDT.

The landing weather outlook is very favorable with just a few clouds at 2,000 and 7,000 feet, scattered clouds at 25,000 feet, good visibility and southwesterly winds giving a 9-knot crosswind.

NASA is not calling up support from the backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Thursday.

But today will be spent testing the ship's reaction control system and aerosurfaces for entry and landing, stowing away equipment for the homecoming and holding one more round of live media interviews. The crew also plans to deploy a tiny PicoSat from the payload bay this morning a little before 4 a.m. EDT.
TUESDAY, JULY 19, 2011
After 37 space station assembly flights over the past 12-and-a-half years, the crew of the shuttle Atlantis undocked from the lab complex for the final time Tuesday in a long-awaited milestone that marks the beginning of the end for NASA's last shuttle mission.

Read our full story.
1518 GMT (11:18 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis' 50-foot-long robotic arm has been cradled back into the payload bay and powered down, completing the space shuttle program's final use of its Canadian-built arm.

The arm debuted on STS-2 in 1981. Over the past 30 years, the shuttle Canadarm grappled 72 payloads, helped maneuver 30 pieces of the International Space Station and supported 115 spacewalks.
1430 GMT (10:30 a.m. EDT)
The heat shield surveys have been completed. The crew will be putting the inspection boom in its cradle in the payload bay shortly.
1340 GMT (9:40 a.m. EDT)
Observations of the port wing are now underway aboard shuttle Atlantis. This is the third and final part of the inspections for today.
1305 GMT (9:05 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis' reinforced carbon-carbon nose cap has been surveyed as the astronauts use the Orbiter Boom Sensor System on the end of the shuttle's robot arm for a series of heat shield inspections. The scans are similar to the ones performed the day after launch. Today's survey results will be compared with the earlier data to ensure the orbiter's wing leading edge panels and nose cap are free of any space debris impacts that could have happened during the mission.
1215 GMT (8:15 a.m. EST)
The right wing has been scanned using the laser and camera package of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. The crew is swinging the boom in position to inspect Atlantis' nose cap next.
1125 GMT (7:25 a.m. EDT)
The crew has the inspection boom in motion for today's heat shield inspections. The starboard wing surveys are getting started.
0819 GMT (4:19 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is quickly departing the vicinity of the space station following separation burn No. 2 producing a 10-foot per second change in velocity.

The astronauts will spend the rest of their workday using the Orbiter Boom Sensor System to inspect the shuttle's wing leading edge panels and nose cap to look for any space debris or micrometeoroid damage that could have occurred during the mission. Bedtime is scheduled for 1:59 p.m. EDT.

They will be awakened for their final full day in orbit at 9:59 p.m. EDT. Standard day-before-landing tests of Atlantis' flight controls and thrusters, along with packing up the cabin for entry will fill the crew's Wednesday in orbit.

Landing at the Kennedy Space Center to conclude this spaceflight is scheduled for Thursday at 5:56 a.m. EDT, about 42 minutes before sunrise, on Runway 15. A backup landing opportunity is available an orbit later at 7:32 a.m. EDT.

The early weather forecast is predicting generally favorable conditions at the Florida spaceport.
0800 GMT (4:00 a.m. EDT)
The space station has begun maneuvering itself back into the normal flying orientation now that today's flyaround photography has ended with an orbital sunset.
0751 GMT (3:51 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle just performed the first of two departure firings. This brief four-second burn changed Atlantis' speed by about 1.5 feet per second. The next will occur around 4:18 a.m. when the shuttle is beneath the station.
0750 GMT (3:50 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is reaching a point 675 feet on the other side of the International Space Station, which is known as the -V bar.
0745 GMT (3:45 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is descending in its loop around the station.
0740 GMT (3:40 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is reaching a point about 600 feet directly above the space station.

The flyaround started with the shuttle in front of the station, in terms of travel direction. It takes Atlantis to a point directly above the complex and then behind it.
0727 GMT (3:27 a.m. EDT)
Pilot Doug Hurley has fired Atlantis' thrusters to begin an arc above the station for today's flyaround.
0726 GMT (3:26 a.m. EDT)
The station yaw is complete.
0701 GMT (3:01 a.m. EDT)
The spacecraft are passing into an orbital sunrise over the Atlantic.
0700 GMT (3:00 a.m. EDT)
And now the Russian thrusters on the International Space Station has begun maneuvering in a 90-degree yaw to position the complex for Atlantis to fly along the long axis.
0655 GMT (2:55 a.m. EDT)
The stationkeeping hold by Atlantis has been initiated.
0652 GMT (2:52 a.m. EDT)
Now 525 feet of separation.
0646 GMT (2:46 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle is headed to a point 600 feet away where it will pause for a half-hour while the space station performs the 90-degree yaw maneuver for today's special flyaround orientation.
0641 GMT (2:41 a.m. EDT)
Passing the 242-foot mark.
0637 GMT (2:37 a.m. EDT)
Now 140 feet of separation with Atlantis moving away at 0.3 feet per second.
0633 GMT (2:33 a.m. EDT)
"Farewell, ISS. Make us proud," shuttle commander Chris Ferguson replied.
0632 GMT (2:32 a.m. EDT)
"Atlantis departing the International Space Station for the last time," resident flight engineer Ron Garan says as he rings the station's bell.
0631 GMT (2:31 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis is 30 feet from the station as it slowly backs away under the control of pilot Doug Hurley.
0630 GMT (2:30 a.m. EDT)
After 8 days, 15 hours and 21 minutes of being linked together high above Earth, shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station on-time at 2:28 a.m. as the two spacecraft flew 243 miles over the Pacific Ocean, east of New Zealand.
0628 GMT (2:28 a.m. EDT)
UNDOCKING! The final space shuttle parts company with the International Space Station, a sentimental sendoff for America's winged machines that spent the past decade constructing the million-pound science complex and supplying the orbiting laboratory with vast loads of logistics. In 37 missions, the shuttles spent 276 days, 11 hours and 23 minutes docked at the station.

With the shuttles entering forced retirement, the space station now must rely upon Russian, European and Japanese unmanned cargo freighters for continued support. U.S. commercial servicing missions by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are planned to start by next year.

And the Russian Soyuz becomes the sole means of launching astronauts to the station and returning them to Earth. The American effort to develop a new human spacecraft to replace the shuttles remains years from taking flight.

The food and equipment delivered by Atlantis ensures the space station has enough provisions to support a full six-person resident crew for the next year while awaiting the U.S. commercial firms to get the routine resupply missions underway.
0626 GMT (2:26 a.m. EDT)
Hooks and latches are driving open.
0625 GMT (2:25 a.m. EDT)
The spacecraft are nearing an orbital sunset. The undocking will occur in darkness but the later flyaround of the station by Atlantis will take place in daylight.
0623 GMT (2:23 a.m. EDT)
Five minutes from undocking. The steering jets on Atlantis are inhibited for the period of physical undocking from the station. The separation occurs when large springs push the two craft apart. Once the shuttle is a couple feet away from the station and the docking devices are clear of one another, pilot Doug Hurley will fire Atlantis' thrusters to continue the movement away.
0610 GMT (2:10 a.m. EDT)
Both the shuttle and station flight control teams report all systems are ready for the undocking at 2:28 a.m. EDT. Atlantis' guidance system was aligned this morning, the station's giant solar arrays have been positioned to protect them from shuttle thruster plumes and the entire shuttle/station complex was reoriented to the proper attitude for undocking.
0601 GMT (2:01 a.m. EDT)
The docking mechanism in Atlantis' payload bay is being powered up.
0525 GMT (1:25 a.m. EDT)
Throughout the time Atlantis has been docked to the space station, the combined stack flew in an orientation with the Russian segment leading the way. This was meant to keep Atlantis' heat shield out of the direction of travel. But as undocking approaches, the stack is being turned 180 degrees to enable Atlantis to separate and fly out in front of the station, reversing its path to docking nearly 9 days ago.
0515 GMT (1:15 a.m. EDT)
After 37 space station assembly flights over the past 12-and-a-half years, the crew of the shuttle Atlantis prepared to undock from the lab complex for the final time Tuesday in a long-awaited milestone that marks the beginning of the end for NASA's last shuttle mission.

Read our full story.
0410 GMT (12:10 a.m. EDT)
The latest version of the NASA Television schedule (Rev. L) can be downloaded here.
0201 GMT (10:01 p.m. EDT Mon.)
The space shuttle Atlantis astronauts have been awakened for undocking day. The orbiter will separate from the International Space Station at 2:28 a.m. EDT, then begin a flyaround of the outpost before departing the outpost's airspace for the final time.
MONDAY, JULY 18, 2011
1625 GMT (12:25 p.m. EDT)
In the dwindling hours of the shuttle program's last visit to the International Space Station, the Atlantis astronauts detached the bus-size Raffaello cargo module and moved it back to the shuttle's payload bay, wrapping up NASA's final shuttle-station resupply mission. The astronauts then gathered for a brief farewell to the lab crew before moving back aboard Atlantis to rig the ship for undocking early Tuesday. Landing at the Kennedy Space Center is targeted for Thursday.

Read our full story.
1435 GMT (10:35 a.m. EDT)
In the 37 space shuttle missions to the International Space Station, the total time spent with open hatches was 234 days, 14 hours and 30 minutes.
1430 GMT (10:30 a.m. EDT)
Hatch closure was marked at 10:28 a.m. EDT, ending 7 days, 21 hours, 41 minutes of open-hatch time between the two spacecraft.
1335 GMT (9:35 a.m. EDT)
The shuttle and station crews are gathered in the Harmony module for a farewell ceremony. The Atlantis astronauts will be heading back to the orbiter and closing the hatchway in preparation for tomorrow's undocking.

The flight plan calls for the shuttle crew to spend the night on their own spacecraft with the hatches already shut so that when wakeup occurs tomorrow they can get right into the departure activities. It will be a busy day, not only with undocking and flyaround, but also a final round of heat shield inspections tomorrow.
1205 GMT (8:05 a.m. EDT)
In the final hours of the shuttle program's last visit to International Space Station, the Atlantis astronauts detached the bus-size Raffaello cargo module, loaded with nearly three tons of trash and no-longer-needed equipment, and moved it back to the shuttle's payload bay early Monday for return to Earth.

Read our full story.
1156 GMT (7:56 a.m. EDT)
And the space station's robot arm has let go of Raffaello.
1148 GMT (7:48 a.m. EDT)
The 22,000-pound Raffaello is back in the payload bay and latched in place for the journey home to Earth aboard Atlantis.

This Italian-made reusable module, making its fourth trip to the space station, delivered 9,403 pounds of cargo, including spare parts, science gear and 2,677 pounds food to stock the outpost's shelves.

After Raffaello was emptied, equipment needing a ride back to the ground and no-longer-used items were stowed into the module to clean up the space station.
1140 GMT (7:40 a.m. EDT)
All four ready-to-latch indicators have triggered.
1130 GMT (7:30 a.m. EDT)
Just inches left to go.
1120 GMT (7:20 a.m. EDT)
The module is being lined up for final insertion into the bay.
1108 GMT (7:08 a.m. EDT)
Anchored on the end of the space station's robotic arm that's being controlled by Atlantis astronauts Doug Hurley and Sandy Magnus, the Raffaello module is undergoing a quarter roll to the proper orientation for entering the payload bay.
1048 GMT (6:48 a.m. EDT)
After seven days being attached to the International Space Station for the unloading its 9,403 pounds of cargo and subsequent packing of 5,666 pounds of items for return to Earth, the Raffaello module has been unberthed from the nadir port of the Harmony connecting node. The module will be put back into the payload bay of Atlantis for the ride home.
1047 GMT (6:47 a.m. EDT)
After all 16 of the electrically-driven bolts were disengaged, the four latches that firmly connected the module and station for an air-tight seal have opened up.
1024 GMT (6:24 a.m. EDT)
The first set of bolts have been released. Now working on the next set.
1014 GMT (6:14 a.m. EDT)
Commands are being sent to drive open the bolts that have held Raffaello to the space station.
1009 GMT (6:09 a.m. EDT)
The arm has a firm grasp on Raffaello. The astronauts will oversee the release of 16 electrically-driven bolts and capture latches that have kept the module structurally attached to the station. Once that work is finished, then Raffaello will be free to separate away.
1005 GMT (6:05 a.m. EDT)
The International Space Station's robot arm is moving toward the grapple fixture on Raffaello. The arm will do the heavy lifting this morning to remove the module and maneuver it down into the shuttle's cargo bay.
0740 GMT (3:40 a.m. EDT)
The vestibule between Raffaello and Harmony has been closed up. Depressurization and leak checks will be performed shortly.
0503 GMT (1:03 a.m. EDT)
Work inside the Raffaello module has been completed for the mission. The hatch was just closed and locked after the astronauts finished a final inventory and look around the inside of Raffaello. The station's robot arm will grapple the module in a few hours for its berthing back in the space shuttle payload bay.
0231 GMT (10:31 p.m. EDT Sun.)
Flight Day 11's wakeup music has played for the astronauts, beginning a day that will see the joint shuttle and station crews close up the Raffaello, detach it from the Harmony node and berth the reusable cargo-delivery module to Atlantis' payload bay. Then later today, the crews will say their farewells to each other and close the hatchway in preparation for Tuesday's departure of the space shuttle.
SUNDAY, JULY 17, 2011
The Atlantis astronauts put in a final day of logistics transfer work Sunday, working through off-duty time to finish moving a last few items into the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module for return to Earth. If all goes well, the cargo module will be detached from the station's forward Harmony module and mounted back in the shuttle's payload bay early Monday, setting the stage for the ship's final departure from the lab complex Tuesday morning.

Read our full story.
Work to move supplies and equipment into the International Space Station and to reload a shuttle cargo module with trash, packing material and no-longer-needed gear is about 78 percent complete as the Atlantis astronauts move into the home stretch of NASA's final shuttle mission.

Read our full story.
FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2011
President Barack Obama made a long distance call from the Oval Office to International Space Station Friday, congratulating the Atlantis astronauts and their station colleagues on the 135th and final space shuttle mission, vowing an "exciting new era" of post-shuttle exploration.

Read our full story.
2050 GMT (4:50 p.m. EDT)
See our updated story on the Atlantis computer situation.
1240 GMT (8:40 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Douglas Hurley carried out troubleshooting procedures early Friday and successfully restarted a shuttle flight computer that failed Thursday. But it is not yet clear what caused the initial failure and given the critical nature of the machines, flight controllers planned to carefully monitor general purpose computer No. 4 to make sure it was, in fact, running normally.

Read our full story.
1020 GMT (6:20 a.m. EDT)
The latest version of the NASA Television schedule (Rev. I) can be downloaded here.
0855 GMT (4:55 a.m. EDT)
Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson and pilot Doug Hurley have restarted general purpose computer No. 4 that went down last night. But it isn't clear what caused the glitch.

"And the data processing systems officer here in mission control reports that GPC-4 is now up and running in the common set," NASA commentator Rob Navias reported after an initial program load, or reboot, was carried out. "It appears, at least, that the recovery procedure has proven successful. If this computer remains up and running, it will be considered a transient failure and likely will be placed in a standby mode.

"The flight control team will watch the operation of this GPC for some period of time, but based on the way the procedures dictate, this GPC, although at the moment operable once again, would be considered a transient failure."
0615 GMT (2:15 a.m. EDT)
The latest version of the NASA Television schedule (Rev. H) can be downloaded here.
0501 GMT (1:01 a.m. EDT)
Today's wakeup song was "Good Day Sunshine," by Paul McCartney to begin Flight Day 8. "Good morning guys. Wake up! And good luck on this, your last mission. Well done," McCartney told the crew in a recorded message.

Today will be spent continuing with the logistics transfer work, holding some more in-flight news media interviews and taking a call from President Obama around 12:30 p.m. EDT.
The Atlantis astronauts were awakened by a master alarm Thursday when one of the shuttle's five general purpose computers apparently failed, NASA officials said. GPC-4 was running systems management software at the time and commander Christopher Ferguson spent about 45 minutes loading that software into general purpose computer No. 2 before going back to bed.

Read our full story.
1110 GMT (7:10 a.m. EDT)
The Atlantis astronauts, looking forward to a half day off after a busy week in space, pressed ahead Thursday with work to unload a cargo module packed with supplies and equipment for the International Space Station. The lab's Russian crew members planned to carry out a bit of mechanical surgery on a high-tech treadmill, installing a new gyroscope needed by its vibration isolation system.

Read our full story.
0935 GMT (5:35 a.m. EDT)
The latest version of the NASA Television schedule (Rev. G) can be downloaded here.
0531 GMT (1:31 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts have been awakened for Flight Day 7 with "Man on the Moon" by R.E.M. and a special message from Michael Stipe: "Good morning, Atlantis. This is Michael Stipe from R.E.M. We wish you much success on your mission and thank all the women and men at NASA who have worked on the shuttle for three decades. From Earth, a very good morning to you."
The space shuttle Discovery on Wednesday morning made her first public appearance outside the hangar since being retired, emerging without any main engines, nose thrusters or aft rocket pods. Seeing the stripped down orbiter with a gaping hole in the nose was a harsh reminder that the spaceship's flying days are over.

See our special photo gallery.
1140 GMT (7:40 a.m. EDT)
With a final shuttle-era spacewalk behind them, the Atlantis astronauts focused on logistics transfers Wednesday, devoting their day to moving cargo and supplies from the shuttle's crew cabin and the Raffaello multi-purpose module into the International Space Station.

Read our full story.
0820 GMT (4:20 a.m. EDT)
The latest version of the NASA Television schedule (Rev. F) can be downloaded here.
0631 GMT (2:31 a.m. EDT)
The astronauts have been awakened for Flight Day 6 by Elton John's "Rocket Man" and a special message from the performer.

"Good morning, Atlantis, this is Elton John. We wish you much success on your mission. A huge thank you to all the men and women at NASA who worked on the shuttle for the last three decades."

Read our earlier status center coverage.