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Ellington Airport Welcomes Shuttle Crew Home

Crew from Atlantis has emotional goodbye in Houston

August 1, 2011

  © Houston Airport System
  Astronauts were greeted by hundreds of well-wishers, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker and U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Hundreds of people packed into NASA’s Hangar 990 at Ellington Airport on July 22 to witness a historic moment, as the crew from Space Shuttle Atlantis recounted their memories of the space agency’s final mission of the space shuttle program.

Ellington Airport serves as the homecoming site for returning astronauts, with shuttle crew members arriving in Houston shortly after their spacecraft touches down in Florida.

“Thank you for keeping the dream alive,” said Atlantis Commander Chris Ferguson. “Your passion for these amazing spaceships will always stand as proof of what this country can do when it dares to be bold.”

Carrying signs, cheering and waving American flags, the well-wishers on hand seemed determined to let the entire NASA team know how much they appreciated the dedication and commitment shown by the agency since the program began in 1981.

“This is definitely the largest crowd we’ve seen for a shuttle homecoming event,” said Ellington Airport general manager Brian Rinehart. “It’s a strong indication of how much the shuttle program has meant to this country and how much NASA still means to this community.”

Family members and friends of the crew members could be spotted throughout the crowd but many of those cheering say they have no direct connection with any of the crew members, or even any NASA employees.

Those individuals say they made the drive to Hangar 990 as a sign of respect for the entire program, which began with the launch of space shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981. The launch and landing of Atlantis marks the 135 and final mission for the reusable orbital spacecraft.

“I live next to the Johnson Space Center so it’s kind of like they’re friends of mine,” said nine year-old Brian Osgood. “It’s cool because they get to go up into space and that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

Those participating in the mission say there was little time for sentimentality while in outer space. The crew was busy taking extra supplies and equipment to the International Space Station, and with only crew members involved in the mission, there was plenty of work to keep everyone busy.

“It felt like a two-month mission crammed into 13 days,” said Astronaut Rex Walheim. “But when the station crew said that Atlantis is departing, that’s when I really got choked up. We were incredibly busy but there were times when you could just take in the big picture and it would get to you.” 
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