July 21, 2011:
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.
"Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, its place in history secured, the space shuttle pulls into port for the last time, its voyage at an end," said mission control commentator Rob Navias.
A few moments later, Atlantis coasted to a halt on the runway centerline, bringing three decades of shuttle operations to a close.
"Mission complete, Houston," Ferguson radioed. "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 astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore from mission control in 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 thing is indisputable -- America's not going to stop exploring.
"Thank you Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and our ship, Atlantis," he said. "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."
While I was at the Shuttle Landing Facility waiting for Atlantis to return home, the International Space Station flew over us in tribute to the Space Shuttle’s contribution towards building the Space Station.
On a personal note, I’ve watched many Shuttle landings on TV and on TV, the twin sonic booms announcing their return sounds like “boom! boom”. Hearing Atlantis announce her final return to Earth, her twin sonic booms sounded like
BANG! BANG!” It sounded more like gunshots. I now understand why Florida residents and those vacationing sometimes call 911 when a Shuttle lands.
Regarding photography, in hindsight, I should have ordered Kodak T-Max 3200 B&W film from New York with next day delivery, which would’ve tripled the price of the film; instead, I used Kodak BW400CN, an ISO 400 film, and shot it at ISO 1600 without push processing. I shot three frames of Atlantis and only one came out decent; but I did capture the parachute deploy. I still had Kodak Ektar 100 loaded in my Canon A-1 from the launch and KSCVC visit, so I had to dump that film to go to ISO 1600. Since the landing was a pre-dawn landing, I figured that color would be wasted; that was the reason why I chose B&W film for the landing.