March 26, 2008

Endeavour Lands Safely at Kennedy Space Center

The space shuttle Endeavour glided to a nighttime landing in Florida Wednesday, concluding a mission that equipped the international space station with the first segment of a Japanese science lab.

The winged space ship touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 7:39 p.m. CDT, following a steep descent from the southwest that took the seven astronauts over the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"Welcome home, Endeavour," said Mission Control as the 100-ton spacecraft rolled to a stop on the Kennedy runway.

"It was a super mission," said Endeavour commander Dom Gorie, who shared the controls during the landing with pilot Gregory H. Johnson. "It was exciting from the start to the end."

Endeavour's first attempt to land, at 6:05 p.m, CDT, was delayed by a low cloud deck with rain that drifted toward the shuttle's runway from the southeast, contradicting a more favorable forecast issued earlier in the day.

The gloomy weather forced the shuttle's seven astronauts to make another 90-minute orbit of the Earth while personnel at Mission Control waited for the skies to clear. The delay shifted Endeavour's landing from daylight to darkness.

The decision to proceed with the landing came from NASA flight director, Richard Jones, and followed a quick consultation with the astronauts.

"We've trained for the last couple of months at night," Gorie told Mission Control. "We are comfortable with the weather."

Gorie, Johnson, Mike Foreman, Rick Linnehan, Bob Behnken, Japanese astronaut Takao Doi and French astronaut Leopold Eyharts spent 15 days, 18 hours, 12 minutes, 27 seconds on the flight to the space station and back, NASA officials said.

The fliers were scheduled to return to Houston, where they train at the Johnson Space Center. NASA scheduled a 4 p.m. welcoming ceremony at Ellington Field, NASA hangar 990. The event is open to the public.

Endeavour's crew delivered the first section of a Japanese science laboratory to the space station as well as a robotic handyman developed in Canada.

The installation of the hardware required five spacewalks and cemented Japan's role in the American-led 15-nation project. The other participants include Russia, Canada and an alliance of European nations.

The flight was the longest of the shuttle's assembly missions to the space station. The five spacewalks matched the most completed on a single shuttle mission.

The second piece of the Japanese laboratory, an enclosure in which astronauts can carry out science experiments, will be launched in late May aboard the shuttle Discovery, according to officials. The last piece, an external science platform, is slated for to arrive at the station in the spring of 2009.

Eyharts spent seven weeks on the orbital outpost to activate Europe's Columbus science module.

He was launched into space with the module aboard the shuttle Atlantis on Feb. 7 and was replaced as a space station crew member by Garrett Reisman, who flew up aboard the Endeavour.


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