During a voice test as Atlantis flew overhead this morning, commander Chris Ferguson offered a "shout out" to the Merritt Island tracking station that will be decommissioned after Atlantis' landing next week ends the shuttle program.
Known as the MILA tracking station, for Merritt Island Launch Annex, the Kennedy Space Center site built in 1966 has provided critical voice and data communication links to human space vehicles in their first minutes of flight since the Apollo era.
It serves the same role for the first seven or so minutes of shuttle ascents and for the final 13 minutes of a re-entry and landing in Florida.
During launch, the Ponce DeLeon tracking station 30 miles to the north supplements MILA during brief periods when solid rocket booster exhaust plumes block radio signals.
Since reaching orbit July 8, the crew has been paying tribute to tracking sites around the world.
"The Merritt Island site along with other ground sites around the world are begin decommissioned following this mission," said NASA TV commentator Rob Navias.
The MILA tribute came 42 years after a Saturn V rocket carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the Apollo 11 mission blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m.
Click here for more background on MILA.
IMAGE: With one of the large tracking dishes in the background, MILA Station Manager Martyn Thomas (left) and Gary Morse, NASA station director for MILA, discuss the completion of the tracking station's mission. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann