An American space shuttle has parted company with the International Space Station for the last time ever.
Atlantis pulled away after a nine-day visit to begin the final journey back to earth marking the end of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle programme.
Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson and pilot Doug Hurley pulsed the spacecraft’s steering rockets to manouevre away from the ISS 400 kilometres above the Pacific Ocean.
The last shuttle mission had delivered five tonnes of provisions and scientific experiments to create a stockpile. It could be a year before there is another US cargo delivery.
There was emotional farewell on board the ISS. Commander Ferguson handed over a stars and stripes flag that had flown on the very first shuttle mission in April 1981.
Now that the shuttle fleet is being retired NASA will rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for access to the ISS while they wait for private firms to come up with a cheaper transport option.
Shuttle programme on its last lap