Last Friday, Atlantis and four astronauts rocketed into orbit on NASA’s last space shuttle voyage, marking the end of an era. Over three decades, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour flew more than 100 missions. NPR took a look back at some of the momentous video that came out of NASA’s space shuttle program.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/26162174[/vimeo]

This got me thinking, what impact has the Space Program had on our local business community? KARE 11′s Allen Costantini dug up a number of Minnesota Connections. There is at least one Minnesota business working with NASA on the shuttle program:

Only a few Minnesotans have experienced the weightlessness of space, but thousands have helped with the “heavy lifting” so others could get there. Many worked at the ATK Corporation, headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.”

ATK has been involved in the Space Program since its inception,” said Brian Grace, ATK spokesperson. “ATK developed the solid rocket motor that powers the Space Shuttle Program and launched NASA satellites before that point in time.”

Approximately 2500 of ATK’s 18,000 employees work in Minnesota.

I am sure that over time another big player in Minnesota, 3M, has had plenty to do with various NASA developments. A recent example is testing 3M’s “Glass Bubbles for cryogenic insulation.” They “designed a unique portable dust collection system specifically for this application. The equipment was supplied by Donaldson Company, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

Costantini found that there are a surprising number of astronauts from Minnesota, too:

Definitely check out the whole KARE 11 post for more details on these astronauts and their stories. What other ties or impacts has Minnesota felt due to NASA? What changes do you see with the end of the shuttle program? Let us know in the comments.