Atlantis mission STS-135 is scheduled to launch on Friday, after which the remaining orbiters will be headed to museums to live out their lives on public display.
To mark the end of an incredible era of space exploration, here below are our pick of Space Shuttle records.
First spacecraft to land on wheels
Before the shuttle program began in 1981 with the first launch of Columbia, manned space flights had always landed by parachute. This happened on land, in the case of the Soviet manned flights, and in the ocean for the American space programme. Designed to be reused, the space shuttle orbiters land like a glider, completely unpowered, on a runway.
First in-flight repair of a space shuttle
On 26 July 2005 the shuttle Discovery launched on the STS-114 mission. This was the first ‘Return to Flight’ missions, following a review of shuttle operations in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster in 2003. During a spacewalk, Stephen Robinson was able to manually pull out two protruding ‘gap fillers’ between the thermal tiles on Discovery’s underbelly.
First US President to use email
President Bill Clinton became the first US President to use email in 1998, sending one e-mail as a test and another, with the help of his staff, to astronaut John Glenn while the astronaut was in orbit during a Space Shuttle Discovery mission.
First royal in space
The first royal in space was Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Saudi Arabia), who flew as a Payload Specialist onboard the STS-51-G mission of the space shuttle Discovery from 17–24 June 1985.
First shuttle docking
On 29 June 1995 the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian Mir space station, beginning the Shuttle-Mir Program. This was the 100th space flight launched by the USA. Atlantis brought cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Nikolai Budarin to Mir, and returned Vladimir Dezhurov, Gennady Strekalov and Norm Thagard (USA) to Earth. This was also the first time a shuttle crew had changed in-orbit.
First untethered spacewalk
NASA astronaut Capt. Bruce McCandless II, USN (b. 8 Jun 1937), was the first person to perform an untethered spacewalk from the space shuttle Challenger, on 7 Feb 1984. His spacewalk was a successful test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit.
Largest crew on a shuttle single mission
The record for the largest crew on a single space mission is the crew of eight launched on space shuttle STS 61A Challenger on 30 October 1985, carrying the West German Spacelab D1 laboratory. The flight (the 22nd shuttle mission) was commanded by Henry Warren Hank Hartsfield and lasted 7 days 44 mins 51secs.
Most re-used spacecraft
NASA’s space shuttle Discovery was last launched on 28 August 2009, beginning its 37th space flight, STS-128. Discovery was the third orbiter in the shuttle fleet and first flew on the STS-41D mission in August 1984.
Most space flights by an individual
The record for the most spaceflights by an individual is seven. To date, two US astronauts have accomplished this. Jerry Ross (born 1948) flew his seventh mission (STS 110) on board the space shuttle Atlantis between 8-19 April 2002. Franklin Chang-Diaz (born 1950) flew his seventh mission on board the space shuttle Endeavour between June 5-19 2002.
Largest space telescope
The $2.1-billion (£1.4-billion) NASA Edwin P. Hubble Space Telescope weighs 11 tonnes (24,250 lb) and is 13.1 m (43 ft) in overall length, with a 240-cm (94.8-in) reflector. It was was launched into space, at an altitude of 613 km (381 miles), by the US space shuttle Discovery on 24 April 1990.