Atlantis Crew Reflects on Final Mission

Now that Shuttle Atlantis is safely home — Johnson Space Center's Mission Control is closed and part of NASA history.  That leaves the final crew to reflect on the mission and the future of the space agency.

Astronaut Rex Walheim started his career with NASA 26 years ago.

"And I have loved every minute that I have been part of the space program.  It has been such an honor and it runs in the blood.  I think you notice here when you talk to people here at the Kennedy Space Center, at the Johnson Space Center, that it just runs in the blood.  And everybody just wants to be part of it and we understand it's time to transition, but we're going to cherish every minute of it."

The crew of Shuttle Atlantis reflected on their final mission.  Walheim says the moment that caused him to take pause was when the shuttle undocked from the International Space Station for the final flight home.

"I mean it was a magnificent sight.  It was dark and we were departing and I was a little bit set back so I could be a little bit detached for the first part.  And when the station crew said that Atlantis is departing, it just — that was one that really choked me up.  And I know there were other parts that really choked people up too and it's just — it kind of depended on what part of the mission you were at and what your job was.  But there were times that you would just take the big picture and it would get to you."

The four-person crew spent nearly two weeks delivering supplies to the ISS.  This is Pilot Doug Hurley.

"It felt like about a two-month mission crammed into 13 days.  We ran from dawn to dusk literally up there and I think we left the station better than we found it and I think we've got them set up for the long haul."

For the foreseeable future, supplies and NASA astronauts will be transported to the ISS via the Russian Soyuz rocket.  But Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson says he believes it won't be long before private companies are in the picture.

"Given everything that I know today, I think that we'll be traversing back and forth a low-earth orbit with one of the four or five vehicles that are being considered right now.  I think that's going to be a well-traveled path."

Thousands of men and women who contributed to the shuttle program will now move on.  The shuttles will be cleaned and prepped for their displays at museums across the country.

As the Atlantis crew prepares to head back to Houston for their final debriefing, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden thanked them for their service.

"I counted on you as an astronaut, and I now count on all of you as the NASA administrator and you all have never let me down — never let me down."

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...