Space Shuttle Atlantis, courtesy AP
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP/WZZM) -- Space shuttle Atlantis is back on Earth, and the shuttle era is over.
Atlantis and its four astronauts glided through the twilight Thursday and landed in Florida shortly before sunrise.
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.
"It's an emotional ending, but also a new beginning," WZZM 13 Producer, Chris Zoladz, wrote in a tweet this morning from the Space center.
He was one of 50 NASA twitter followers selected to attend the arrival of Atlantis Thursday morning. He said the energy of everyone there was very high, but it certainly was an emotional time. "It's so cool to witness history with my own two eyes," he says.
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.
NEW: Smiles not tears at Mission Control at the end
HOUSTON (AP) -- Applause erupted at NASA's Mission Control in Houston when the last space shuttle landed -- but it wasn't from the two dozen men and one woman working the final flight.
The applause and emotion came from the flight controllers' families. The controllers themselves didn't show any reaction immediately, busy working the final landing of the 30-year shuttle program in Florida.
But nine minutes later, the emotions started to come to the surface. That's when controllers stood up, shook hands, laughed a bit, patted each on their backs and signed memorabilia.
Even though some of them will lose their jobs and the shuttle era ended, tears were absent.