PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The space shuttle Atlantis inched its way closer to the Cape Canaveral launch pad and to the history books.

“We’re going to look at this final mission as a celebration of all the space shuttle has accomplished over its thirty year lifespan,” says Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final mission.

Ferguson, a Northeast Philadelphia native, came out of retirement to command the shuttle’s 33rd and final flight in July and the last mission of the space shuttle era.

“We can look back and take the sweet part of all this and say we are blessed to have been a part of this,” says Ferguson.

Ferguson’s mother, Mary Ann Pietras, will travel down to Florida for her son’s third mission into space. She says watching him lift off is almost as great as watching him land.

“I am truly concerned about him,” admits Pietras, “but he says, ‘Not to worry, Mom. They wouldn’t send me if it wasn’t safe.'”

Everyone who knows Ferguson is proud that he grew up locally, attending Archbishop Ryan High School, and then Drexel for college. And Ferguson makes it a point to give back to the community where he grew up.

“He’s also very much still a guy of this area and can relate very well to these kids,” says Archbishop Ryan President Michael McArdle.

Ferguson received the Distinguished Graduate Award from his high school, where he has become an inspiration for the students.

“I think our kids use that example and say, ‘If Chris can do it, I can do it,’” says Frank Morris, Ferguson’s old science teacher.

Chris Ferguson grew up aiming for the stars. And he got there.

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