The space shuttle Atlantis left the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, marking the last time the iconic vessel will make the journey back home. The Associated Press reports Atlantis will touch down in Florida on Thursday, bringing an end to its 25-year service in the NASA space program.
Its latest mission lasted around 8-and-a-half days, and Atlantis' crew dropped off a year's worth of supplies for the six men stationed on the ISS. The mission marks the 37th such excursion over the last 12 years, all with the intent of building the ISS, which has since grown to include 13 rooms and more than 900,000 pounds.
The moment was bittersweet for astronauts on Atlantis as well as those on board the space station. To make the occasion even more memorable, the space station completed a 90 degree rotation to offer up views of the structure that have never been seen before. As one final salute, the ship's departure was marked by the ringing of a naval ship bell aboard the station.
"Atlantis departing the International Space Station for the last time," space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. announced, the news source reports "We'll miss you guys. Godspeed."
The shuttle program is being retired in lieu of private companies providing Earth-to-orbit travels. Until then, American astronauts will have to hitch rides with Russian shuttles to get to and from the ISS. Additionally, privately funded rockets are expected to help with providing supplies by as early as the end of this year.
The move is part of a large plan, President Barack Obama has said. He hopes NASA can land astronauts on an asteroid by 2025, and Mars 10 years after that.