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STS-135 took advantage of the processing for the STS-335 Launch On Need mission that would have been necessary if STS-134's crew became stranded in orbit.Atlantis landed for the final time at the Kennedy Space Center on 21 July 2011.

Its maiden flight was STS-51-J from 3 to 7 October 1985.

It flew one other mission, STS-61-B, the second night launch in the shuttle program, before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster temporarily grounded the shuttle fleet in 1986.

Among the five Space Shuttles flown into space, Atlantis conducted a subsequent mission in the shortest time after the previous mission (turnaround time) when it launched in November 1985 on STS-61-B, only 50 days after its previous mission, STS-51-J in October 1985. Two of these, both flown in 1989, deployed the planetary probes Magellan to Venus (on STS-30) and Galileo to Jupiter (on STS-34).

Atlantis embarked on its 33rd and final mission, also the final mission of a space shuttle, STS-135, on 8 July 2011.

STS-134 by Endeavour was expected to be the final flight before STS-135 was authorized in October 2010.With STS-30 Atlantis became the first shuttle to launch an interplanetary probe.