The Shuttle Atlantis has left the International Space Station for the last time. It is the final mission for Atlantis, with sister ships Discovery and Endeavour due to make their last trips in September and November respectively.
Once the 73-billion euro Space Station project is complete – and it is already 98 per cent there – there will be no more use for the expensive heavy lift transporters.
Crews are already being ferried to and from the ISS by Russian carriers. When the Shuttle-era finally draws to a close, cargo runs will be handled by Russian, European and Japanese vessels.
On its final space flight, Atlantis delivered a Russian-built docking module and research lab, solar-power equipment and supplies for the crew on board.
The two giants parted company 355 kilometres above the Indian Ocean. One crew member said the ISS is now a “palace”.
Atlantis is due to touch down in Florida on Wednesday.