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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Space shuttle Discovery lands safely

Space shuttle Discovery has landed safely at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, ending a successful 13-day mission to rewire the International Space Station (ISS).

The shuttle made a fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and a long glide to touchdown at the seaside landing strip shortly after 5:30pm local time, bringing home a seven-member crew that included Germany's Thomas Reiter, who had spent the past six months at the ISS.

Discovery dropped a new crew member, rookie US astronaut Sunita Williams, at the orbiting outpost for a six-month stint in space.

NASA caught a break with the weather in Florida after wrestling with difficult conditions at the Kennedy Space Centre and at the backup landing site, Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Officials even considered landing Discovery at a rarely used landing site in New Mexico.

Shuttle managers skipped a first opportunity to land in Florida before deciding the weather had cleared enough for a safe touchdown on their second chance.

Despite wrestling with a balky solar panel, Discovery's crew accomplished the main goals of the mission, which began on December 9 with a launch from Florida.

The astronauts smoothly installed an $US11 million, two-ton truss segment on the space station's backbone and put in a new electrical system so laboratories built by Europe and Japan can be added to the station in the future.

It was the retraction of an old solar array that tripped up the mission.

Astronauts and ground controllers struggled to fold up the troublesome 33-metre wing on several occasions before NASA managers decided to add an unplanned spacewalk so the astronauts could shake out the kinks in the panel.

The added spacewalk forced the crew to spend an extra day in space, delaying Discovery's homecoming from Thursday to Friday.

NASA plans at least 13 more missions to complete the half-built, $US100 billion space station before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

Greener News Room

Related Links
NASA Shuttle Missions - Outline of current and past NASA space shuttle missions.


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