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Hours Till Touchdown For The Last Shuttle

CAPE CANAVERAL (CBS4) - "God Bless America" roused the astronauts onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis from their slumber for the final time.

With pilot Doug Hurley and astronauts Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim the four member crew prepared to bring Atlantis home and bring an end to the 30-year old space shuttle program.

"Well, as they say all good things come to an end. For me it's been an unbelieveable journey on a magnificent flying machine. I'm very proud to have been part of the shuttle team," said Tony Ceccacci, Director of the Shuttle Entry Flight.

Earlier Atlantis left the International Space Station for the last time. Thirty-seven times the space shuttle had docked and undocked from the space station…  37 times it has gone off without a hitch.

This time there was a bit more nostalgia as the station's docking door disappeared into the blackness of space.

Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson reflected on the program's history.

"It may seem like a like, sort of an ending and I supposed to a degree it is. You know the space shuttle has been with us and it's been the heart and the soul of the human space flight program for thirty years," said Ferguson. "It's a little sad to see it go away."

Rarely, said NASA engineers, had a mission ever gone this smoothly, this perfectly.

Pilot Doug Hurley steered the shuttle away then circled Space Station from about 600 feet. Astronauts got a last chance to take final pictures of the now massive space station, as big as a football field, circling 240 miles above the earth.

"It's a dream come true actually. It flies much better than our simulators show that she should fly. It's been an absolute pleasure yesterday for me to get to do the fly around," said Doug Hurley, the shuttle's pilot.

As they prepared to head home for the last time, astronauts got a little down time, reflecting on 30 years of history and the future during an interview with network news crews back on earth.

Chris Ferguson is the Shuttle Commander. " We're going to go beyond again some day. Hopefully in the not too distant future. And we're going to go back to the moon and back to Mars. The future is very bright."

The Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center Thursday morning at 5:56a.m.

CBS4's Stephen Stock will be there to cover the landing live.

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