NASA shuttle Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Center, the second-to-last-stage in the three-decades-long United States shuttle program. The real finale is 30 days later, when the program officially ends. Hundreds of NASA engineers, astronauts and others staff will be standing by greet the shuttle and crew. It's likely to resemble a funeral rather than a party as the United States won't be a frontrunner in the space race for several years, and will be dependent on Russia for access to Space.
There are also concerns that the skills of so many scientists and others in the NASA workforce will be lost in the years before the nation is able to call the shots again. The shuttle program ends officially in early August, and many of the workforce will keep their jobs for a time as the agency ties up loose ends. Shuttles Discovery and Endeavour completed their final flights on Mar 9 and Jun 1 respectively. All three are destined for museums -- Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center visitor's complex, Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and Discovery, NASA's oldest orbiter, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (WRITTEN Jul 2011)
Date written/update: 2011-07-21