Published: May 24, 2010 8:41 AM EDT
Updated: May 26, 2010 8:41 AM EDT

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Space shuttle Atlantis sailed past

the 120 million-mile mark in space Wednesday and aimed for a

morning touchdown to end its flying career.

To everyone's relief, the predicted rain seemed to be staying


"It's looking pretty favorable right now," Mission Control

radioed commander Kenneth Ham before dawn.

Ham and his crew had some trouble turning on the backup cooling

system that is needed for re-entry, but managed to work around the

problem and close the payload bay doors on time. Landing was set

for 8:48 a.m.

The lead flight directors for the space station construction

mission - and NASA's third-to-last shuttle journey - arrived from

Houston to welcome Atlantis and its six astronauts home.

Tens of thousands jammed Kennedy Space Center and surrounding

roads to witness Atlantis' launch on May 14, but the landing was

not expected to attract nearly as many people.

Shortly after midnight, Atlantis logged its 120-millionth mile

in space, accumulated over 32 flights and 25 years. Only two

shuttle missions remain, by NASA's two other spaceships. NASA is

pushing for one more flight for Atlantis, which would need White

House approval.

Atlantis and its all-man crew departed the International Space

Station on Sunday, leaving it bigger and more powerful.

The astronauts accomplished everything they set out to do, and

did it with humor. When Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert called to

chat Tuesday, the one-liners zipped back and forth.

"We've got a new antenna on the space station, a new six-pack

of batteries, a new module docked to the station, and generally

have defeated the forces of evil, so we're very happy about how

things have gone," said spaceman Garrett Reisman.

Ham and his crew turned serious, though, when reflecting on

Atlantis' quarter-century of service and the impending end of the

space shuttle program.

Once Atlantis is back in its hangar, it will be prepped for a

potential rescue mission for what's currently slated to be the

final shuttle flight, by Endeavour. Endeavour's trip is targeted

for November, but NASA managers will reassess the date in another

week or two.

The only other flight on the books is a supply run to the space

station by Discovery in September. That date also is being


Both of those missions have payload issues that are threatening

to cause delays.

NASA would like to fly Atlantis again in June 2011, provided no

rescue mission is needed for Endeavour's flight.