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VIDEO & PICTURE: Atlantis Kennedy arrival marks end of 25-year career

Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to the Kennedy Space Center on 26 May after a 12-day mission to the International Space Station, marking the end of a 25-year lifespan.

The orbiter (OV-104) blasted off from Kennedy for the 32nd and final time on 14 May on STS-132 with a crew of six commanded by Ken Ham. Atlantis docked with ISS two days later, delivering Russian research module Rassvet (which means "dawn" in Russian).

Atlantis touches down following final mission

The module, which adds storage space and a docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to the station, was attached using the space station's robotic arm. Russian modules are normally launched independently, and this was only the second mission to transport one by Shuttle.

The mission also involved three spacewalks, to store batteries and a communications antenna outside the station.

Atlantis was the fourth Shuttle to go into orbit, its career beginning on 3 October 1985 when it blasted off from Kennedy on STS-51-J, a secret five-day mission carrying a military payload for the US Department of Defense. Ten years later, Atlantis became the first Shuttle to dock with Russia's Mir space station on STS-71 in June 1995.

"It's the orbiter that the Russians have known best, because it's one that came to their space station most often, and it's one that we used to deliver a module for them in the past," says Emily Nelson, lead space station flight director for Atlantis's final mission.

Atlantis's final touchdown on Kennedy's Runway 33 was at 08:48. Only two more missions are planned, with Discovery due to lift off later this summer, while the final flight will be operated by Endeavour at the end of 2010 or early 2011.

VIDEO: NASA STS-132: Atlantis Comes Home

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