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Final Space Shuttle Led by Alumnus and Astronaut Chris Ferguson Lands Safely

July 21, 2011

Atlantis Landing Philadelphia native and Drexel mechanical engineering alumnus Christopher Ferguson (’84) led space shuttle Atlantis and the STS-135 crew to a safe landing July 21, at 5:57 a.m. at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Ferguson, commander of the STS-135, wrapped up the final mission of the space shuttle program with pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. The crew delivered more than 9,400 pounds of spare parts, spare equipment and other supplies in the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module - including 2,677 pounds of food - that will sustain space station operations for the next year. The 21-foot long, 15-foot diameter Raffaello brought back nearly 5,700 pounds of unneeded materials from the station.

“Although we got to take the ride,” said Ferguson on behalf of his crew, “we sure hope that everybody who has ever worked on, or touched, or looked at, or envied or admired a space shuttle was able to take just a little part of the journey with us.”

Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off July 8 on the final flight of the shuttle program, STS-135, a 13-day mission to the International Space Station and traveled more than 5.2 million miles. Atlantis carried a crew of four and the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station. 

A Philadelphia native, Ferguson, who has spent more than 40 days in space, piloted Atlantis on mission STS-115 in 2006 before commanding Endeavor on mission STS-126 in 2008, delivering a water recycling system, sleeping quarters, a kitchen, space commode, exercise equipment and a combustion science experiment to the International Space Station. He also served as lead spacecraft communicator for mission STS-118 by Endeavor in 2007. 

In addition to receiving an honorary degree from Drexel in 2009, Ferguson was also the University's 2009 Engineer of the Year. He was selected to be an astronaut in 1998, the third Drexel alumnus to be chosen by NASA, following James P. Bagian '73 and Paul Richards '87. 

Ferguson is one of three Drexel alumni who pursued a career as a NASA astronaut. The other two are: Dr. James Bagian ’73, director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for Patient Safety, who had a 15-year tenure at NASA including two flights, in 1989 and 1991 and Paul Richards ’87, observatory manager for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, who flew aboard a Discovery mission in 2001.

Quotes and photos are courtesy of NASA.