CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —
Some were too upset to even show up. Friday's event marked the true end to the 30-year shuttle program.
Seeing so many members of the shuttle team "helps soften the hard edge of seeing Atlantis go off to a museum," said astronaut Rex Walheim, part of the ship's final crew.
Atlantis made its way down broad industrial avenues, most of them off-limits to the public. So the trek did not replicate the narrow, stop-and-go turns Endeavour encountered last month while navigating downtown Los Angeles.
The mastermind behind Atlantis' slow march through Kennedy was sweating bullets nonetheless.
"It's only a priceless artifact driving 9.8 miles and it weighs 164,000 pounds," said Tim Macy, director of project development and construction for Kennedy's visitor complex operator, the company Delaware North.
"Other than that, no pressure at all," Macy said, laughing. "Only the eyes of the country and the world and everybody at NASA is watching us."
The relocation of Atlantis was plotted out for months, he noted last week, and experienced shuttle workers took part.
The roundabout loop took Atlantis past Kennedy's headquarters building for a midmorning ceremony that drew several thousand past and present employees, and their guests, as well as a few dozen astronauts. A high school color guard and band led the way.
The mood was more upbeat than when the one-way road trip began four hours earlier and resembled a funeral procession. NASA officials went out of their way to emphasize the space agency's future.
"It's an incredibly historic day," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr., a former skipper of Atlantis. "But I don't preside over an agency that's in the history business. ... We're in the business of creating the future."