The space shuttle Atlantis returned this morning, marking the end of an era. The space shuttle program began with the launch of Columbia on April 12, 1981. The program advanced space exploration into the twenty-first century. Contrary to the Apollo missions, which sparked fierce competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the space shuttle program existed mostly in an era of collaboration and cooperation between nations.
The Hubble Telescope delivered vibrant photos of the universe into our homes, and the International Space Station brought astronauts from across the world to work in orbit. The space shuttle program also suffered its share of tragedies, most memorably the explosion of the Challenger on January 28, 1986, and the Columbia disintegrating on February 1, 2003.