Shuttle lands at Kennedy Space Center

(AP) - Space shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts safely returned to Earth on Friday after some last-minute suspense over which landing site to use, closing out a year in which NASA finally got construction of the international space station back on track.

Its arrival announced by its signature twin sonic booms, the spaceship touched down on a floodlit runway in the early evening darkness after a smooth, 13-day flight during which the astronauts rewired the space station and delivered U.S. astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams to the orbiting outpost for a six-month stay, reports Trend.

"It's a thrill to have you in Florida," Mission Control said.

After the shuttle rolled to a stop, ending its 5.3 million-mile journey, Discovery commander Mark Polansky said: "You have seven thrilled people right here. ... I think it's going to be a great holiday."

Less than two hours after touching down, Polansky and four other crew members pilot William Oefelein, and mission specialists Robert Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham and Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency walked around the shuttle and inspected it under a light drizzle and blustery wind.

Missing from the walk-around inspection were U.S. astronaut Nicholas Patrick and German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency, who came back from a six-month stay at the space station and felt the pull of gravity Friday for the first time since July.

"Discovery is a beautiful vehicle, and we're happy we were able to bring her home safely," Polansky said.

It was not until about an hour before the landing that NASA decided where to bring the shuttle home. There were showers over Florida, and crosswinds at the usual back-up landing site, Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.

NASA was not thrilled about the next-best landing site, White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, because it lacks the cranes and other equipment needed to transport the shuttle back to its home at Cape Canaveral and service the ship on the ground. Only once has a shuttle landed there, in 1982.

Ultimately, NASA gave the go-ahead for a Florida landing when it appeared the rain would not reach Cape Canaveral. The shuttle came in through scattered clouds.

"If you were to ask me before the flight what I wanted for Christmas, what I wanted was a safe and successful shuttle flight," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations. "This is just a tremendous way to end this year."

Several hours before the landing, space station commander Michael Lopez-Alegria played a recording of "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

"Thought this might be appropriate for Discovery," radioed Lopez-Alegria, a U.S. astronaut.

Discovery's return completed NASA's third shuttle flight of 2006, the most since 2002. After the Columbia disaster that killed seven astronauts in 2003, the space agency struggled to redesign the shuttle's fuel tank and resume regular construction of the half-built international space station.

Before this year, the only shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster was a single test mission in 2005.

Discovery's crew made four spacewalks, installing a two-ton addition to the space station and switching the orbiting outpost from a temporary power source to a permanent one. The fourth spacewalk was an impromptu affair, added when NASA was unable to get an accordion-like solar array on the space station to fold up.

Two spacewalkers tightened wires and nudged the panels, finally getting the 115-foot-long array to collapse into its compartment like a jack-in-the-box.

"In a tough situation like this, they figured out what the problem was ... and continued with the rest of the construction," said former shuttle commander Eileen Collins, who now serves on a NASA advisory panel. "I'm really proud of the guys."

Other than that, the mission was practically flawless.

Curbeam took part in all four spacewalks, setting a record for the most in a single shuttle mission. Fuglesang, the first Swede in space, took three spacewalks.

The rewiring job set the stage for two new major additions to the space station from Europe and Japan that will be installed over the next two years. Five shuttle flights to continue space station construction are scheduled for next year.

"We've had a fantastic year," said Kirk Shireman, space station program deputy manager. "Next year is going to be bigger."

Subscribe to Trend in Google News! Subscribe
Azerbaijan-Armenia border demarcation is priority - Russian MFA
Azerbaijan-Armenia border demarcation is priority - Russian MFA
Russia is consistently making efforts to resolve situation on Azerbaijan-Armenia border - MFA
Russia is consistently making efforts to resolve situation on Azerbaijan-Armenia border - MFA
Six servicemen returned by Azerbaijan arrested in Armenia
Six servicemen returned by Azerbaijan arrested in Armenia
Loading Bars
Latest
Israel's defence chief isolates at home after positive COVID test
Former ambassador sentenced to 10 years in prison in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani holding training session for reservists (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Rising influence of limited elite groups in Kazakhstan becomes serious security threat - Tokayev
Turkmen factory discloses construction materials production data
Azerbaijan enters new stage of strategic development - official
Georgia’s fuel prices remain relatively low
Kazakhstan to create secondary market for distressed asset purchase and sale
SOCAR Turkey eyes capacity expansion for STAR Refinery
Russia reports 49,513 daily COVID-19 cases, a new high since start of pandemic
SOCAR’s STAR Refinery expands its list of oil grades
Kazakhstan needs tough policy to demonopolize economy - president
Iran reduces electricity subsides for high consuming users
Azerbaijan unveils value added growth in non-oil industry in 2021
Georgia names main trading partners by export destinations in 2021
Azerbaijan discloses state budget expenditure growth in 2021
Turkmenistan-Turkey trade volume increased in 11M2021
Goals of Advisor to French President's Cabinet, EU Special Representative for S.Caucasus's visit to Azerbaijan named (Exclusive)
Azerbaijan-Armenia border demarcation is priority - Russian MFA
Greenhouse sector in Georgia may soon get needed backup from USAID, UNDP, ADB
Russia is consistently making efforts to resolve situation on Azerbaijan-Armenia border - MFA
Nar supports the biggest platform of Azerbaijani audiobook library
Kazakh National Bank to ensure balance of foreign exchange market until full restoration of confidence in tenge
SOCAR Turkey updates on Merkury project
Turkish officials observe Azerbaijan’s pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020 (PHOTO)
Intel plans $20 bln chip manufacturing site in Ohio - sources
Uzbek Central Bank shares data on volume of cash in circulation
Turkmen Health Ministry opens tender to purchase medical oxygen cylinders
Ukraine discloses volume of Azerbaijani investments in economy
Number of employment contracts increases in Azerbaijan - minister
Georgia sees increase in producer price index
India to help Sri Lanka with USD 2.4 billion to overcome financial crisis: Report
‘Mauritius prime example of India’s approach to development partnership’, says PM Modi
World Bank to launch co-op program with Uzbekistan for 2022-2026
Azerbaijan considers extending term of suspension of inspections in field of business
Turkmenistan is primary supplier of jet fuel to Georgia - Union of Oil Product Importers
Turkmenistan intends to supply electricity to third countries via Uzbekistan and Iran
SOCAR reveals volume of gas exports to Europe
Azerbaijan commissions new military facilities in liberated Kalbajar district (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Oil production up at Azerbaijan’s Bahar-Gum Deniz
Kazakhstan failed to create diversified economy – President Tokayev
Uzbekistan eyes implementing projects with Japan in leather and footwear industry
Bahar Energy shares data on well fund in Azerbaijan
Kazakh president calls on local business circles to jointly build new economic policy
Number of active oil wells in Azerbaijan’s Bahar-Gum Deniz block down
Georgia publishes COVID-19 data for January 21
Central Bank of Azerbaijan acts prudently to curb inflation - Gazprombank
Azerbaijani oil prices increase
Bahar Energy reveals figures for natural gas wells
Uzbekneftegaz JSC reveals volume of production planned for 2022
Kazakhstan reduces production of diesel fuel
Turkmenistan has great potential for green energy initiatives – USAID
Georgia, Azerbaijan discuss customs cooperation
USAID eager to partner with Turkmenistan on low carbon development
Only Azerbaijani citizens older 18 allowed to visit liberated lands - adviser to minister
Azerbaijani currency rates for January 21
Uzbekistan shares domestic COVID-19 data for January 20
Oil falls as U.S. inventory build prompts profit-taking
MFA of Kazakhstan issues statement on European Parliament resolution on situation in country
Japan approves Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11
2022 can be called the year of investments in Karabakh - Country Managing Partner of PwC (Interview) (PHOTO/VIDEO)
16,284 more COVID-19 cases reported in Kazakhstan
China, Russia delay U.S. bid to sanction North Koreans at U.N.
Turkey confirms 71,843 daily COVID-19 cases
New vaccine passport rules in France to come into power from next week
U.S. FAA approves 78% of planes for low-visibility landings near 5G airports
Gloomy Netflix forecast erases much of stock's pandemic gains
Turkey, El Salvador sign 6 agreements during Bukele visit
Austria becomes first country in Europe to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all adults
Google launches fresh appeal to overturn $2.8 bln fine at top EU court
Russian, Iranian top diplomats confirm commitment to Vienna talks to restore JCPOA - MFA
Gas prices in Europe above $900 per 1,000 cubic meters
Tehran offers swap of Russian gas from Azerbaijan to southern Iran
Czech Development Agency eyes launching new projects in Georgia in 2022
Sudan military chief Burhan announces ministerial appointments: Sovereign council
Azerbaijani FM discusses issues of bilateral co-op with Austrian minister
Azerbaijani FM meets with OPEC Sec-Gen (PHOTO)
UN General Assembly adopts resolution condemning Holocaust denial
Cavushoglu and Israel's Lapid hold phone call
Iran, Russia reach agreements in oil and gas sector, says minister
Children over 5 years old allowed to be vaccinated against coronavirus in Uzbekistan
Ankara expects to host Putin-Zelensky meeting - Erdogan
Turkey, Qatar agree on ensuring security at Kabul airport
Turkish Parliament speaker pays tribute to memory of martyrs of Azerbaijan's January 20 tragedy
Georgia slightly decreases imports of petroleum gases from Azerbaijan
US will keep probing diplomats’ health incidents: Blinken
Georgia shares data on cement imports from Azerbaijan
Kazakhstan Railways opens tender to buy spare parts
Azerbaijan's metallurgical production increases
Cost of manufactured computers up in Azerbaijan
Central Bank of Turkey makes decision on key rate
President Ilham Aliyev receives Advisor to French President's Cabinet and EU Special Representative for South Caucasus (VIDEO)
January 20 tragedy laid foundation for Azerbaijanis' struggle to restore their statehood and independence
Azerbaijan shares data on number of vaccinated citizens
Price indexes of industrial, trade sectors at Uzbek stock exchange rise
Azerbaijan confirms 1,186 more COVID-19 cases, 582 recoveries
Turkish VP tweets about anniversary of Azerbaijan's January 20 tragedy
Kazakhstan talks persons not eligible for support on loan deferrals, write-offs
Uzbekistan’s Bukhara oil refinery discloses volume of its production in 2021
Turkmen enterprise releases its first tablets and smartphones
All news