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Jul 08, 2011 at 09:34pm IST

NASA retires space shuttles with Atlantis

New Delhi: Thirty years and 134 missions later, the United State's Space Shuttle programme is being shut down. Atlantis is the last shuttle to go to space. After launch late on Friday night, it will return to Earth two weeks later, to be mothballed forever.

US President Barack Obama has shut down the Space Shuttle programme, leaving 30,000 workers jobless.

Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator said, "We are not ending human space flight, we are recommitting ourselves to it and taking necessary and difficult step today to ensure America's pre-eminence in human space exploration for years to come."

President Nixon made NASA build reusable spacecraft. The first called Columbia, flew in April 1981. Since then, there have been 134 flights, each costing almost a $ 1 billion.

Shuttles made space seem safe for humans. But 1986 and 2003 saw two blow ups in the air, killing fourteen of NASA's best brains, among whom was India born Kalpana Chawla.

Joe Kosmo, Senior Project Engineer, NASA, said, "Even the best we've lost would be the first to tell you. Don't stop just because of us. Don't stop pushing forward."

Sunita Williams, also of Indian origin, flew aboard the shuttle Discovery in 2006. The shuttle brought together people from around the world to build the International Space Station.

Takao Doi, Japanese Astronaut said, "I think we should continue going to space. It makes us all better humans."

It also launched the Hubble space telescope, that gazes back into the beginnings of our universe.