The last mission has been bittersweet for the Atlantis crew, with the reality of the end of one era and the beginning of another starting to sink in. Mission Specialist Rex Walheim says he's been taking time to let the glory of space soak in.
"I had a chance to look out the window of the Cupola, which is a great window, and we can see the Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights. We all kind of crowded around and got to see that. Just savoring every minutes of floating in space. Then, once in a while when you're on Atlantis, at the end of the day you kind of look around the mid-deck and think of all the guys and women who were there before you and who had a part in the space program and you think, "Wow, this is the last flight." So it does cross your mind once in a while."
The Atlantis visit isn't just for old times. It's actually a critical mission to offload a year's worth of supplies for the Space Station. Mission Specialist Sandy Magnus says so far, it's been mostly work.
"Since we've docked to Station, we've been working quite a bit. I think we're getting ahead now, so hopefully the rest of the pace of the mission will slow down a little bit and we can actually savor the moment a little bit more than we've been able to until now."
NASA will begin a transition to a new crew vehicle, the Orion capsule, over the next decade. Atlantis pilot Doug Hurley says he and others are looking forward to the future.
"I think if you asked any one of us we would love a shot at flying another vehicle. So, definitely , and we've got opportunities prior to that. We've got multiple flights to the International Space Station. We're going to crew this beautiful complex for the next ten years plus so there's plenty of opportunities to fly and I don't see any reason why not stay and see what happens. It's a real bright future."
Even though thousands of NASA contractor jobs here in the Houston area are already gone, Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson says he's still positive about the need for bright minds at JSC.
"Johnson Space Center, although we're reaching the end of the Space Shuttle program, is still a vibrant place to work. There will be a transitional period here as we hand over a lot of the responsibilities for going to low-earth orbit to our commercial providers. This is an opportunity for us to look beyond low-earth orbit and perhaps back to the Moon or to an asteroid where we'd like to travel to soon, so there will be plenty of work in the Houston area."
Shuttle Atlantis returns to earth on Thursday for the last time.