DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for a final launch Friday. Once it returns from its 12-day mission to the International Space Station, the space shuttle program has a rendezvous with retirement.

Former astronauts have been invited to the final launch, and Mary Ellen Weber from North Texas will be among them.

“It’s a bittersweet time, I think, for everybody in the space program. You can’t help but, uh, get a lump in your throat at the thought of it,” Weber said.

Weber is the Vice President of Government Affairs and Policy at UT Southwestern. She’s also a former NASA Astronaut.

“My first mission was a satellite deploy mission. It was in 1995. I flew again in 2000. And, it really was a dream mission. It was the third construction flight for the space station,” Weber said.

Weber is used to piloting planes. As an avid skydiver, she’s also used to jumping out of them. She was the 30th woman to fly in space.

“It is breathtaking. You can see thunderstorms below connected over thousands of miles. On the night passes, that’s when the cities pop out like jewels. That’s when you can see evidence of humankind,” Weber said.

But, Weber worries that the end of the Space Shuttle Era will mean the beginning of a new era, one in which U.S. astronauts will be forced to launch from foreign soil.

“Are we going to be the generation, the ones that brought it to a halt?” Weber asked.

Because, Weber says, talk of a U.S. exploration of asteroids or a Mission to Mars is still just talk.

“What makes it such a sad time to those of us that have been involved in the space program is that we don’t know what’s next,” Weber said.

Friday’s launch is scheduled for 10:26 a.m. But the threat of rain or thunderstorms could delay liftoff.

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