Friday's farewell parade for the space shuttle Atlantis elicited more tears than cheers for the thousands of Kennedy Space Center workers who attended.
"Today means the public will get more exposure to the shuttle" said Carol Donnely, a 25-year employee of NASA. "But it's sad for us because we know it won't fly anymore."
That became official when NASA signed over Space Shuttle Atlantis to its new owners: Delaware North Company. The company is building a $100-million dollar museum for it's newest prized possession ten miles away at it's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center.
The fastest spaceship in the world left NASA at walking speed. Its 78-foot wide wings hovered over civilian roads for the very first time. That meant anything that was in its way, like a sign, traffic light, or power pole, had to come down. But there was more room for thousands of people who lined the shuttle's path.
Thirty-four astronauts escorted Atlantis as it made its way to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Commander Jon McBride will never forget being part of it. "I got to mingle through the crowd all the way down the street here, and you see people crying. Got a little tear in my eye, when I saw the shuttle come down the road. I'm thinking we're looking at history right here this is the last time the shuttle will ever move."
Phil Beyel was the one who moved the shuttle into the 90-thousand square foot area, which will eventually be the permanent home for Atlantis, with interactive educational programs. When asked if he was nervous about the move, Beyel replied, "A little bit. Coming out of Exploration Park, it was a tough turn, and maybe backing out of the Vehicle Assembly Building... not too bad."
For shuttle watchers, like Mary Catherine Middlemiss, it was one last moment to reminisce.
"It's really bittersweet, because I'm excited about the future. Every time I see a kid, I get really excited that they're just as excited too."
Kevin Thompson agrees, saying, "It's a once in a lifetime thing to do, and to bring my daughter here, is really cool."
Jennifer Vargas told us she brought three cameras, including one strapped to her forehead, so she could record with them all at the same time.
A sparkling celebration of fireworks that were out of this world capped off the day. Many, including Commander McBride, look forward to the future of the space program. As shuttle Atlantis gets ready for the public viewing, he says, "I want it to be an inspirational tool where the kids can come down here and look at the shuttle and say wow I can fly the shuttle launch system of the future."
The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center expects the Atlantis will be ready for permanent display someone in mid July.
Where are all the space shuttles now?
Below is a look at each of the shuttles in the order they flew, including the test model.
Enterprise: Shuttle prototype used in jetliner-drop tests over Edwards Air Force Base in California in 1977 and never flew in space. Originally on display at a Smithsonian Institution hangar in Virginia, it was flown to New York City this past April and moved into the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in June. Suffered minor damage to vertical stabilizer, or tail, earlier this week from Superstorm Sandy, according to NASA.
Columbia: Destroyed during descent on Feb. 1, 2003, after 28 missions stretching back to 1981. All seven astronauts were killed. The wreckage is stored in NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center for research purposes.
Challenger: Destroyed during launch on Jan. 28, 1986, after 10 missions dating to 1983. All seven astronauts were killed. Wreckage is buried in a pair of abandoned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Discovery: Moved to Smithsonian Institution hangar in northern Virginia in April after 39 missions dating to 1984.
Atlantis: Moved Friday to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center after 33 missions stretching back to 1985.
Endeavour: Flown to Los Angeles in September and moved into California Science Center in October after 25 missions dating to 1992. It was the replacement for space shuttle Challenger.