Atlantis safely back on Earth

Shuttle landing signals end of an era

CREATED Jul 21, 2011

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Web Producer: Brooke Morgan

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL. (KGUN9-TV/AP) - It is the end of the shuttle era for NASA.  The space shuttle Atlantis is back on Earth, after completing its final mission early this morning.

Atlantis and its four astronauts glided through the twilight Thursday and landed in Florida shortly before sunrise.

According to the Associated Press, hundreds gathered near the runway to welcome Atlantis home - and to bid NASA's 30-year space shuttle program goodbye.

Atlantis' successful space station restocking mission closed out the shuttle era.

This was a true homecoming for Atlantis. The next-to-youngest shuttle will remain at Kennedy Space Center and be put on display.

NASA's next stop with astronauts will be an asteroid, then Mars.  Private companies will take over trips to the International Space Station.