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Last of the space shuttle commanders retires from NASA

Atlantis skipper hangs up his pressure suit

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The last astronaut to command a space shuttle mission is retiring from NASA at the age of 50, after 13 years at the agency.

Chris Ferguson, who likes to play drums for rock and roll astronaut band Max Q* in his spare time, was in at the end of the space shuttle era when he captained the final voyage of Atlantis, the 135th mission of America's 30-year manned spaceplane programme.

Ferguson, a retired US Navy captain, joined the astronaut corps in 1998 and after two years of training, spent six years on technical duties and as a spacecraft communicator.

He first flew into space in 2006 as the pilot on the STS-115 mission (also aboard shuttle Atlantis) which was responsible for restarting the assembly of the International Space Staiton (ISS).

He then commanded the STS-126 Endeavour mission in 2008, a so-called 'home improvement' mission to deliver a water recycling system, two sleeping quarters, a kitchen and exercise equipment, among other things, to the ISS.

Finally, he was the commander of STS-135/ULF7 Atlantis in July 2011, delivering supplies and spare parts for the space station.

Altogether, he spent more than 40 days in space.

"Chris has been a great friend, a tremendous professional and an invaluable asset to the NASA team and the astronaut office," Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office, said in a statement.

"His exceptional leadership helped ensure a perfect final flight of the space shuttle, a fitting tribute to the thousands who made the program possible."

Ferguson is leaving the space agency for a job in the private sector, NASA said. ®

Bootnote

*Max Q is an astronaut band that was started in 1987 by Robert Gibson, George Nelson and Brewster Shaw. The band is named after the engineering term for the maximum dynamic pressure from the atmosphere experienced by ascending spacecraft.

The rotating membership, based on whether or not any of them are training, or are actually in space, also includes Dan Burbank, commander of the current mission on the ISS, Expedition 30.

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