NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former shuttle astronaut, met the crew of Atlantis after they brought an orbiter home safely for the final time on Thursday and praised their efforts.
"It’s a great day to be here and to welcome the . . . crew back home,” Bolden said speaking at a microphone set up near Atlantis on the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
“I personally want to salute them and everybody who’s been involved in this program. It’s been a 30-year journey that’s been absolutely incredible. I want to say all of us stand on the shoulders . . . of some giants."
Bolden said the Atlantis crew of Commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim, who have become to be known as the Final Four, did an “absolutely incredible job. They were like racehorses the whole time. They made us very proud."
Atlantis began the 135th and final flight in the 30-year shuttle program from KSC on July 8. It now will be at least four years – estimates peg the timeline at about 2015 – before humans fly into space again from the Space Coast.
“We’ve been exploring since early in our country’s history,’ Bolden said. “What Fergie and his crew did this time was kind of close out this era of our exploration.”
Ferguson, who followed Bolden to the microphone, looked back and ahead.
“Ultimately, it’s everyone who has worked on the shuttle program, although we got to take the ride, we sure hope that everybody who has ever worked or touched or looked at or envied or admired a space shuttle was able to take a little part of the journey with us,” he said.
“We are going to put Atlantis in a museum now, along with the other three orbiters, for generations that will come after us, to admire and appreciate."
“I want that picture of a young, six-year-old boy looking up at a space shuttle in a museum and say ‘Daddy, I want to do something like that when I grow up, or I want our country to do fantastic things like this.’ If we set those steps right now and they continue with that next generation of space explorers then I consider our job here complete.”