Duluth, MN (The Northland's NewsCenter) -For thirty years, the Space Shuttle program has captivated a nation.
"Obviously everyone here that works in the program has a personal attachment to it so from that point of view; we hate to see it end."
Colonel Jeff Williams is a NASA Astronaut from Winter, Wisconsin.
He has logged nearly a year in space living aboard the International Space Station with Russian Cosmonauts.
With the space program entering a new phase of existence, Colonel Williams says keeping the program alive is simply human nature.
"We do have in our nature to understand the world around us, or the universe around us in this case."
According to NASA, the next phase after Atlantis ends will be one of unprecedented exploration.
Former Astronaut Pinky Nelson explains.
"NASA is hoping that commercial space folks will step up to provide access to low Earth orbit to provide back and forth to the space station and in the meantime we're reliant on the Russians to get to the space station."
The ISS will be manned tentatively until 2020. After that, its future is uncertain.
But Former Astronaut and Minnesota native Pinky Nelson thinks the ISS will be used long into the future.
"Hopefully build a spacecraft in orbit that can take astronauts to asteroids and to mars and some really exciting exploration destinations."
When Atlantis lands for the final time, Williams says optimism will take off.
"If we're going to move onto the next phase of human space exploration, at some point the space shuttle program needs to come to an end and the decision was made to do that now."
The Space Shuttle Atlantis landed safely this morning on Kennedy Space Center's famed Runway 1-5.
Atlantis will join the remaining three orbiters on a museum floor.
Written for the web by Chris Axelson