Atlantis bid final farewell to International Space Station and headed towards home. Atlantis was set to land at 5:56 am (0956 GMT), making it a rare night landing, and NASA was describing a “gorgeous night at the Kennedy Space Center.”

The crew of Atlantis on Tuesday bade a bittersweet goodbye to the International Space Station ending the final visit by a space shuttle to ISS. The crew of Atlantis began deorbit procedures from the ISS at 0628 GMT about 350 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean to begin its final return to Earth. “Thanks so much for hosting us. It’s a great station, and it’s been an absolute pleasure,” Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson said of his crew’s eight-day stay at the ISS.

“We’ll miss you guys. Godspeed, soft landing and we’ll see you back on Earth in the fall,” space station crewmember Ronald Garan, a Nasa flight engineer, said as Atlantis floated away. “It’s been an incredible ride,” said Ferguson of the final shuttle mission. “We will never forget the role that the space shuttle played in (the station’s) creation,” he said. “Farewell ISS, make us proud.”

Final inspections of the shuttle’s heat shield, which protects the craft during its fiery entry into Earth’s atmosphere, were completed on Wednesday and NASA said the shuttle was in good shape for landing.

The weather forecast was also “very favourable” at Kennedy Space Center, NASA said, with the shuttle expected to land at 5:56am local time (0956 GMT).

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