The astronauts on NASA’s final shuttle voyage departed the International Space Station for the last time Monday morning. The astronauts left a U.S. flag and commemorative shuttle model to cap off its 30-year adventure. Atlantis was set to undock from the orbiting lab early Tuesday before heading into retirement. Atlantis is scheduled to arrive back at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center just before sunrise on Thursday.
Space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. says he attached a small flag, which also rocketed into orbit during the first shuttle flight in 1981, to the space station hatch door before the team departed. Atlantis had been at the space station for more than a week and the four-member crew was responsible for unloading a year’s worth of supplies, packing up trash, and taking old equipment back to earth.
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According to Chron.com, new commercial spacecraft is under development and astronauts should expect at least three to five years before flying. The news source also says that the first private spacecraft to reach the space station will retrieve the flag left behind.
Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center after it goes into retirement and will be on public display. Space shuttles Discovery and Endeavor will be moved to museums in Washington and Los Angeles for their resting places.