Last shuttle astronauts visit Kern County

Last shuttle astronauts visit Kern County »Play Video
From right, space shuttle Atlantis astronauts Rex Walheim, Sandra Magnus, Doug Hurley and Chris Ferguson visit employees of NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011.

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — They'll be forever known as America's last space shuttle astronauts, and the smallest crew in decades.

Tuesday, the historic crew of the Atlantis finalized their mission at Edwards Air Force Base in eastern Kern County by saying thanks to those who helped make it possible.

For mission specialist Rex Walheim, visiting California was a trip down memory lane.   

“There’s so much history in the air and the facility. Edwards Air Force Base has always been the cradle of aviation. It’s been this way since I first came here in 1992,” Walheim said.
  
Walheim was a former pilot at Edwards. Tuesday, he joined fellow Atlantis' astronauts Christopher Ferguson, Doug Hurley and Sandra Magnus at NASA’S Dryden Flight Research Center. These four astronauts made up the final crew for NASA’s 135th and final flight for the space shuttle program.

“We originally started off as a rescue mission. Then we were told we would be resupplying the Space Station, giving them enough supplies to last an extra year,” Walheim said of the Atlantis mission.
    
Although the shuttle program is over, Walheim has new hopes for his NASA career.

“How do we build a spaceship to handle being away from earth six to eight months? One year (and) nine months?” Walheim asked rhetorically of the challenges facing NASA going forward, as the agency seeks exploration of Mars and beyond.

Atlantis was Walheim's final mission in space. Now, he’ll join his family in Huston and continue his work on earth with NASA.