The four astronauts from STS 135, the , visited NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field next to Mountain View this afternoon.
"We call this the Rex Walheim homecoming tour," said Commander Chris Ferguson about his fellow crew member raised in San Carlos to a roomful of NASA Ames employees and their family members. "The rest of you will have a lot of opportunities to ask Rex questions and the rest of the crew will be there to support him."
The astronauts thanked those gathered because while the Kennedy Space Center all these years helped the shuttles take off, the work done at NASA Ames with the thermal protection system prevents overheating and helps them return home safely.
Before the event with the employees, during a press conference Pilot Doug Hurley, from his personal experience, explained what else he thought NASA Ames' contributed to the space shuttle program and to an astronaut's training.
"Through the entire decade that I've been an astronaut, come out here twice a year to fly in the Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS)," said Hurley. "If you use that simulator in concert with our shuttle training aircraft-the Gulfstream II, it is more than adequate to prepare for shuttle landings."
"We were very happy to come out here and train in the VMS," he said. "It was unprecedented to get that type of experience."
July 8 on its 33rd and final flight. During the mission Ferguson, Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Walheim brought supplies to the International Space Station and science experiments–including one that will test the bone density of mice–along with a system to study robotic spacecraft refueling.
They also returned a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA improve pump designs for future systems, according to NASA officials.
The crew touchdown on Earth July 21 after a successful completion of the 13-day mission.
The afternoon event at NASA Ames was closed to the public.
"The astronauts were on a very tight schedule," said Michael Mewhinney, a NASA Ames spokesman, "And because of limited seating, we couldn’t open it to everyone."
Check back for video interviews with the astronauts!
Additional reporting by Bay City News Service.