Space Shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station early this morning, ending the Shuttle/Station era of spaceflight. 

Atlantis will bring back several thousand pounds of waste and unneeded equipment – a return-to-Earth capability that won’t exist with commercial flights that are due to begin resupply work later this year.  Astronauts transferred more than 8,000 pounds of supplies carried up by Atlantis when it launched on July 8. 

Atlantis is on track for a 5:56 a.m. EDT landing at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Complex on Thursday.  Should weather be an issue, Atlantis can try for a second opportunity at 7:32 a.m.  Should both times fail, NASA will look at other options including landing the shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  The Shuttle’s time in orbit is limited by supplies of liquid oxygen and hydrogen that are used to power its Connecticut-made fuel cells and life support systems.  Unlike the other two shuttles in the fleet, Atlantis is not powered by the International Space Station during docking and consumes its fuel throughout the duration of the mission. 

Space Shuttles and their crews helped build the orbiting complex, completing a total of 37 resupply and assembly missions since the first station supply flight in 1999. 

CTTechJunkie will be on hand for the landing at the Kennedy Space Center Thursday.