An unprecedented view of the space shuttle Atlantis and the ionization of its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, "appearing like a bean sprout against clouds and city lights," on its way home, July 21, 2011. Photographed by Expedition 28 from the ISS. Pre-dawn airglow over Earth can be seen in the background [NASA].
0957 UT, 21 July 2011: Atlantis returns to Earth for the final time, bringing an end to the program after more than thirty years, after 200 orbits and 8.5 million km. It was the 25th night landing and 78th landing at KSC, only the 133rd landing since 1981. MET: 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes and 50 seconds. Since April 12, 1981, 355 individuals from 16 countries flew 852 times aboard the shuttle, deploying 180 payloads, including satellites, returned 52 payloads from space and retrieved, repaired or redeployed seven spacecraft. STS-135 was the 33rd and final flight for Atlantis after totaling 307 days in space, 4,848 orbits and 872.3 million kilometers (roughly 48.49 light minutes or 5.8 AU) [NASA].