When the space shuttle Atlantis safely touched down at 5:57 this morning at Kennedy Space Center, it marked the end of one era of American space exploration. In a call from the White House to Commander Chris Ferguson and the crew of the mission on July 15, President Obama praised the work of the thousands of men and women who "have poured their hearts and souls into America's space shuttle program over the last three decades. I want to say thank you, you've helped our country lead the space age and you continue to inspire us"
The President spoke to the influence NASA has had on the American psyche, noting the shuttle and the space station are "a unique part of our history," one that "embodies our sense of adventure, exploration and courage."
He also looked to the future, saying that while this mission marked the final flight of the space shuttle program, it "ushers in an exciting new era to push the frontiers of space exploration and human space flight" even further, with the eventual goal of "ultimately sending humans to Mars."