NASA's space shuttle has been an icon of the U.S. space program for the past 30 years. Journey on one of the last shuttle missions to witness some final "firsts" made aboard this unique spacecraft.
© 2011 National Geographic; Video courtesy NASA
The space shuttle program neared its complete retirement with mission STS-134, the next-to-last shuttle journey. Shuttle Endeavour, which was built to replace the ill-fated shuttle Challenger, made its 25th and final flight, and carried six astronauts to the International Space Station.
Like the kid who dreams of space travel, the astronauts’ excitement extends into the real thing.
SOUNDBITE: Greg Chamitoff, NASA Space Walker- We’ve been in space now for, what, four hours. Five hours, something like that. Amazing and we’re all feeling great. This is awesome. I can’t wait to get back to the space station.”
And honesty- from an astronaut on his first flight:
SOUNDBITE:Roberto Vittori, Italian Space Agency Flight Engineer - “I was a little bit afraid, but quickly adapted.“
Since 1998, more than 25 space shuttle crews have docked with, and helped construct the International Space Station, delivering modules, equipment and supplies.
This mission marked several milestones in the shuttle program, including the first space conversation with a Pope.
SOT: “Well, your holiness, it’s a great honor to speak with you …”
But more significantly, they successfully installed an astrophysics experiment, called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. And it marked the last spacewalks ever for members of a shuttle crew. Although it was Greg Chamitoff’s first.
SOUNDBITE: Greg Chamitoff, NASA Space Walker - “And y’know that was the most intense thing I’ve ever done in my life! That was really amazing. You know it’s really amazing that humans can really do this! It’s not science fiction. It’s absolutely real.”
The shuttle program’s final journey is scheduled for later in the summer, with Atlantis making one more trip to the ISS.
After retirement, the shuttle crafts are slated to live their final days in museums across the U.S.