Discovery was travelling at 27,000kph when it made its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and swooped over the Pacific Ocean before gliding to a smooth predawn landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Tuesday after a 14-day mission that may have been the last shuttle flight for some time.
Nasa diverted the shuttle to California after bypassing four chances to land at Discovery’s home port, the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where clouds and rain proved troublesome.
Discovery carried needed supplies and equipment to the space station and used new technology, including laser scanners, to search for damage on the outside of the shuttle.
Discovery’s crew performed three spacewalks, replacing a faulty steering gyroscope and reviving another on the space station.
Technicians check the shuttle upon
But the crew also had to perform an unexpected repair with a risky spacewalk to the belly of the shuttle to remove bits of cloth filler protruding from the spacecraft’s heat-shield tiles, which Nasa managers feared could cause dangerous overheating on re-entry.
The fuel tank foam problem prompted Nasa to ground the shuttle fleet until it can find a solution. The US space agency has set 22 September as a target for the next shuttle launch.