❚ THE US SHUTTLE ATLANTIS today undocked from the International Space Station and is heading home to Earth for the last time. This, the 37th shuttle mission to the ISS over 13 years, brings to a close Nasa’s 30-year reusable spaceplane programme.
➢ Reuters reports: An American flag that flew aboard Columbia on the first US shuttle mission in 1981 will remain affixed to the International Space Station’s air lock until the air lock swings open to admit astronauts in future years who ride to the station aboard a capsule built by US commercial companies. NASA is supporting efforts by four firms — Boeing, Space Exploration Technologies, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Blue Origin, a space travel start-up backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — with technology development contracts worth $269m. NASA hopes the new vehicles will be ready to fly in about 2015.
The space shuttle Atlantis is the bookend of 134 previous shuttle missions that have deployed satellites and observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle’s crowning accomplishment, NASA says, was carrying to orbit and constructing the space station — a $100 billion project of 16 countries.