- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) - There was no crying in Mission Control.

In fact, it took awhile before any signs of emotion from the steely engineers of that famous room that takes care of the astronauts from post-launch to just after wheels-stop.

As the last space shuttle landed Thursday morning, the two dozen men and one woman in Mission Control stayed focused. Behind and above them in the VIP room, their families applauded when Atlantis touched down, but not the controllers themselves. They had to make sure the shuttle and its crew of four were safe.

Their work only ends once the crew is out of the spacecraft.

Now, this room _ built 16 years ago with shuttle missions in mind _ will revert to a training center for future controllers for the International Space Station. The original Mission Control of the Apollo era with its big green computer terminals is a historic landmark in the same building.

Thursday was a milestone that many here had been dreading.

Before giving the final command to order Atlantis to fire its engines to come home, flight director Tony Ceccacci turned to his colleagues and told them: “Time to make our Mommas proud.”

An hour after landing, the inevitable could no longer be avoided. It was time to let go.

“Hopefully, I can get through this,” Ceccacci said, launching into a speech to his colleagues and others over NASA airwaves.

He couldn’t. He choked up once, but then pushed through. Still no tears.

“The work done in this room, in this building, will never again be duplicated,” he said.

“Savor the moment,” Ceccacci said. “Soak it in. And know that you are the best. The best in the world. Your work here has made America and the world a better place. It’s been an unbelievable and amazing journey.”

Then came the applause, the hugs and handshakes. People took pictures, laughed and some had long wistful faces. Controllers kept giving the thumbs-up and tissues mostly stayed in the pocket.

They were under orders to keep dry eyes.

“You guys must know that we do have a motto in the Mission Control Center that flight controllers don’t cry,” Ceccacci had told reporters Wednesday. “So we’re going to make sure we keep that.”

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