Meet NASA's Last Shuttle Crew
Four astronauts close out program with Atlantis' final flight
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2011 8:46 AM CDT
In this Wednesday, June 22, 2011 file picture, the crew of Atlantis: Rex Walhiem, Sandy Magnus, Doug Hurley, and Chris Ferguson at a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.   (John Raoux)
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(Newser) – They are the envy of America's space program: Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Rex Walheim, and Sandra Magnus will zip into space on Friday aboard NASA's 135th and final shuttle mission. The smallest crew since 1983 amounts to an afterthought: They were initially groomed as a rescue mission in case of trouble with Endeavour's final flight, reports the AP. NASA decided to go ahead with the mission and stock the space station for a year, but the astronauts run the risk of being stranded in space—in the event of damage to Atlantis there are no more shuttles to rescue them, and getting home via Soyuz could take up to a year.

Not that anybody's complaining. With the end of the shuttle program comes much more limited seats into space for US astronauts, and this crew tells the AP that they'll likely have to be pried from the shuttle when Atlantis touches down for the final time on the 42nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. "We're just trying to savor the moment," says Ferguson, the mission's commander. "We want to be able to say, `We remember when. We remember when there was a space shuttle.'" Click for a timeline of milestones in the 30-year shuttle program.