In rare night landing, space shuttle back on Earth

Feb 22, 2010 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
Space shuttle Endeavour returns to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010, after a 14-day mission to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(AP) -- Space shuttle Endeavour and its six astronauts closed out the last major construction mission at the International Space Station with a smooth landing in darkness that struck many as bittersweet.

Only one flight remains for Endeavour, the baby of the shuttle fleet. Overall, just four missions remain.

"We'll go into it with our heads held high," launch director Mike Leinbach said early Monday, a few hours after Endeavour landed in Florida. "A little bit sad note, but a great ending to a great mission."

During the two-week, 5.7 million-mile journey, commander George Zamka and his crew delivered and installed a new space station room, Tranquility, and a big bay window with commanding views of Earth. Their success resulted in the virtual completion of the space station, described by NASA as 98 percent finished.

For a while Sunday, it seemed as though Endeavour's homecoming might be delayed. All morning and afternoon, forecasters said rain and clouds probably would scuttle any touchdown attempts. But the rain stayed away, and the sky cleared just in time.

"It's great to be home. It was a great adventure," Zamka said after the shuttle rolled to a stop on the 3-mile-long runway, awash in xenon lights.

Upon touchdown, Mission Control immediately relayed congratulations to Zamka and his crew for connecting Tranquility and opening those new "windows to the world."

Tranquility already is serving as a base for life-support equipment, as well as a gym and restroom. It also holds the seven-windowed dome, quite possibly the most anticipated addition ever made to a spacecraft.

At least one of the space station residents, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, watched Endeavour's atmospheric re-entry from the new . "The view was definitely out-of-the-world," he wrote in a Twitter update.

The two new compartments were supplied by the European Space Agency at a cost of more than $400 million. It took three spacewalks to hook everything up.

Endeavour was reported to be in good shape, with no noticeable damage aside from a few dings. "My goodness, what a machine," Zamka said. "She was perfect throughout the flight."

The four remaining shuttle flights will stock the space station with more experiments, spare parts and supplies, all critical to the long-term success of the program, said Mike Moses, a NASA manager. Discovery will make the next trip in early April.

As for Endeavour, it's due to fly one last time at the end of July.

NASA intends to wrap up the shuttle program this fall, after which the space station will be supplied by craft from Russia, Europe and Japan. Astronauts will hitch rides exclusively on Russian Soyuz capsules, while cargo will arrive on unmanned carriers. The Obama Administration is proposing that commercial rocket companies take a crack at the U.S. ferry side of it, once the three remaining shuttles are retired.

As if to signal the end, Endeavour had no returning space station crew on board.

Leinbach noted that "a whole series of lasts" are coming up. On Monday, workers already had begun the final processing for Endeavour's last flight.

NASA is being extra careful now when referencing all those "lasts."

When Endeavour blasted off in the wee hours of Feb. 8, it was advertised as the last scheduled nighttime launch for a . That was before Discovery's upcoming flight was delayed, from mid-March to April 5. Now liftoff will be shortly before sunrise - technically in darkness - assuming the schedule sticks. And landing will be in the middle of the night.

For the record, this was the 23rd space shuttle landing in darkness, out of 130 flights. The last time was in 2008, by Endeavour as well.

"We're back as we came," Zamka said after he stepped out onto the runway early Monday. "It's dark outside."

Explore further: Image: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

5 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Space shuttle blasts off on last night flight

Feb 08, 2010

(AP) -- Endeavour and six astronauts rocketed into orbit Monday on what's expected to be the last nighttime launch for the shuttle program, hauling a new room and observation deck for the International Space ...

Shuttle Endeavour undocks from space station

Feb 20, 2010

(AP) -- Shuttle Endeavour departed the International Space Station on Friday night and headed home, leaving behind an outpost that is nearly complete and now has the best windows ever on the world.

Storms may delay space shuttle Endeavour landing

Feb 21, 2010

Astronauts aboard the US shuttle Endeavour hope to end their two-week mission to the International Space Station Sunday, but stormy weather is threatening to delay their return to Earth.

Space shuttle Endeavour pulls in at space station

Feb 10, 2010

(AP) -- Shuttle Endeavour arrived to a warm welcome at the International Space Station early Wednesday, delivering a new room and observation deck that will come close to completing construction 200 miles ...

Recommended for you

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

6 minutes ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

7 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

7 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

How to grip an asteroid

7 hours ago

For someone like Edward Fouad, a junior at Caltech who has always been interested in robotics and mechanical engineering, it was an ideal project: help develop robotic technology that could one day fly on ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

yyz
not rated yet Feb 22, 2010
ISS Astronaut Captures Shuttle Landing from Cupola:

http://www.univer...-cupola/
Skepticus
3.5 / 5 (2) Feb 22, 2010
I really wish NASA has gone ahead and design the Shuttle Mk.2. A bloody good concept wasted by the budget woes and indecisiveness. Imagine what the new shuttle would be with all the new tech we have now.
yyz
not rated yet Feb 22, 2010
Skepticus
not rated yet Feb 23, 2010
You mean this? http://cgi.ebay.c...02r22538
\
Hilarious..! Easy to configure, quick to assemble for readiness, versatile for large loads, compact, and ...cheap! Sound like a winner recipe!