Anticipation is high at Kennedy Space Centre ahead of the landing of Atlantis, an event which will bring to an end NASA’s historic space shuttle programme.
Atlantis, launched on July 8 to dock with the International Space Station, departed the station on Tuesday after restocking it with a year’s worth of supplies.
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, says the shuttle’s retirement will have an economic fallout.
An estimated 7,000 shuttle workers are losing their jobs – and that is excluding the ripple effect the closure will have on the economy of the central Florida community known as the Space Coast.
With NASA’s next big programme not yet defined, some of those who have jobs for now might find themselves looking for work outside of the NASA family soon.
The shuttle’s final landing at 09:56 GMT on Thursday marks the beginning of an emotional day for many who worked on the programme.
“Obviously it truly will be the last day of work and it happens to coincide with landing day as well, so I think you’re going to see a lot of emotions that day,” said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel.
Atlantis is the last of the shuttles to be retired. It will remain at Kennedy Space Center, eventually going on public display at the visitors’ complex.
Discovery is bound for the Smithsonian Institution in suburban Washington, and Endeavour for the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
A huge accomplishment over the three decades of the shuttle era is the construction of the space station, a nearly 1 million-pound science outpost that took a little over 12 years and 37 shuttle flights to build. Also, 180 satellites and other spacecraft have been deployed by the shuttle fleet.
With the fleet’s retirement on Thursday, flying people and cargo up to the International Space Station will no longer be a government programme. NASA is turning to private industry with fixed prices, contracts and profit margins. The space agency will be the customer, not the boss.