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Shuttle lands back in Florida
Shuttle Endeavour makes rare night landing after construction visit to space station.
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2010 05:22 GMT

Mission controllers praised Endeavour's crew for an "outstanding mission" [AFP]

The space shuttle Endeavour has landed safely back in Florida ending a 14-day mission that included installation of the last major additions to the International Space Station.

Endeavour and its six crew members returned to earth late on Sunday US time in a rare night landing, ending one of the final space shuttle missions.

During Endeavour's mission - which spanned two weeks and more than nine million kilometres – the astronauts delivered and installed a new room on the space station room and a big bay window providing crews with sweeping views of the Earth.

Endeavour installed a new space window on the station giving stunning views of Earth [Nasa]
"It's great to be home. It was a great adventure," George Zamka, the shuttle's commander, radioed as the 100-ton shuttle rolled to a stop.

Just over an hour earlier mission controllers had given the go-ahead for Zamka to fire the shuttle's engines, taking it out of orbit and beginning a fiery glide back to Earth.

Endeavour returned to Earth just a short distance for the Kennedy Space Centre launch pad where it blasted off on February 8.

Nasa officials praised the crew for what they said had been "an outstanding mission".

The addition of the European-built Tranquility module and its domed lookout, known as the Cupola, brings the space station to 98 per cent completion.

The new rooms were hooked up during three spacewalks by Endeavour astronauts Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick.

Shuttles retire

Tranquility will serve as a second living quarters for the station's resident crew and has been outfitted with a toilet, water-recycling system, oxygen generator, air scrubber and exercise gear.

The Cupola lookout is the biggest window ever deployed in space [Nasa]
Nasa, the US space agency, has plans for just four more flights – all to the space station - before the three spacecraft in the shuttle fleet are retired from service later this year.

The remaining missions will deliver spare parts, supplies and racks of science experiments to the $100bn space station.

The retiring of the shuttle fleet will leave the US without a working means of launching humans into orbit.

Instead Nasa will rely exclusively on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to deliver and return crews to the space station.

Earlier this year the Obama administration cancelled the planned follow-up to the shuttle due to cost concerns.

Instead funds will be used to encourage private companies to develop commercial space taxis to transport astronauts into orbit.

The cancellation of the shuttle replacement program, called Constellation, as well as the spending of government money on private space launch companies has sparked fierce debate in the US Congress, at Nasa itself and among aerospace contractors.

According to Nasa's flight schedule, the shuttle Discovery is due to make the next flight to the space station in early April.

Endeavour meanwhile will be overhauled for one final mission when it is due to be used in the last ever space shuttle flight – mission STS-134 - currently timetabled for July 29.

Source:
Agencies
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