Flying on a Space Shuttle is the 'Coolest Thing' Ever, Astronaut Says

Shuttle Atlantis Could Still Fly One More Mission Before Retiring
The space shuttle Atlantis lands with drag chute deployed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on May 26, 2010 to complete its final planned mission, the STS-132 trip to the International Space Station.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? The six astronauts who flew back toEarth aboard shuttle Atlantis Wednesday said their trip was a blast, and theywish they could ride a space shuttle again.

But the spaceflyers admitted there was very little chance ofthis, since there are only two moreshuttle missions planned before NASA's three-orbiter fleet is retired atthe end of this year. Nonetheless, the experience on Atlantis was one the crewof STS-132 will remember forever, the astronauts said.

"It certainly did strike me walking around the orbitertoday, that I probably just did the coolest thing I'll ever do in mylife," Atlantis' STS-132 commander Kenneth Ham said after thelanding. "And it's over, it's behind me, it's great, it's a greatmemory."

The flight was the final planned voyage for Atlantis, thoughNASA and lawmakers are considering whether to add just one more mission nextyear to install extra spare supplies on the station.

"From the condition we brought her back in, she is soready to get stacked and back on the launch pad," STS-132 pilot Dominic"Tony" Antonelli said. "You can tell that?s where she wants tobe."

Ham and company plan to leave Kennedy Space Center here and flyhome to Houston today.

The astronauts spent 12 days orbiting Earth on Atlantis,which linked up with the International Space Station to deliver spare suppliesand a new Russian research module. Their work included three spacewalks, whichmarked a high point for the three astronauts who conducted them.

At one point, spacewalker Stephen Bowen was left with somespare time to wait for further instructions while his teammate wrapped up atask.

"I had about 20 to 30 minutes, sitting there basicallylaying on my back, watching the world go by past the Russian segment, and I wasjust thinking, 'How in the world did I end up here? This is just unbelievable,just seems totally surreal and a lot of fun at the same time,'" Bowen recalled.

The astronauts ? all veteran space travelers ? said theyappreciated seeing the space station in its now almost-completely built state.

Mission specialist Garrett Reisman served as a long-durationcrewmember on the station's Expedition 16 and 17 in 2008.

"It felt like home when I got back there," Reismansaid. "But there were some definite changes. This crew has got the stationreally shipshape."

He particularly appreciated a recent addition to theorbiting laboratory called theCupola, a giant dome window that offers sweeping views of the Earth below.

"It's fantastic to look out at the Earth from theCupola," Reisman said. "You can see from horizon to horizon."

Ultimately, an essential part of the reason the STS-132 missionwent so well was the crew's bond, the astronauts said.

"The fun is really these five guys next to me, andwe're going to be around together for quite a while longer and we're going to continueto have fun," Ham said.

NASA's next shuttle mission, the STS-133 flight ofDiscovery, is slated to lift off Sept. 16. Endeavour is planned to launch inlate November on what could be the last-ever shuttle mission.


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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.