None of them had expected to fly another shuttle mission. Even when they were well into training, six months before launch, they weren't certain STS-135 would be approved by NASA and Congress. So when Atlantis lifted off to begin the shuttle program's final mission in July 2011, it was something of a bonus—for both the crew (pictured from left: Rex Walheim, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Chris Ferguson), and for NASA, which was able to stock the International Space Station with supplies one last time before the shuttle went into retirement.
Sharing this unique experience—the intense and abbreviated training, the busy two weeks in orbit, and the postflight publicity tour—created a special bond among the STS-135 astronauts, says Ferguson, the mission commander. “I’d like to think we’re all lifelong friends. Crews come and go. Some get along really well, and others can’t wait to fly the flight and get away from each other. Just human nature. But I really think we struck a right balance between work and play.”
See more scenes from STS-135 in the gallery above.