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Space shuttle makes rare night landing

Shuttle commander George Zamka brings Endeavour to a safe landing on runway 15 Sunday night at Kennedy Space Center.

Associated Press

Shuttle commander George Zamka brings Endeavour to a safe landing on runway 15 Sunday night at Kennedy Space Center.

CAPE CANAVERAL — Endeavour and its six astronauts returned safely Sunday, making a rare night landing to end a mission that resulted in the virtual completion of the International Space Station.

All day, forecasters said rain and clouds probably would scuttle any touchdown attempts. But the rain stayed away and the sky cleared for the 10:20 landing.

Mission Control waited until the last possible minute before giving commander George Zamka the go-ahead to head home. The 3-mile-long runway was awash in xenon lights.

"It's great to be home. It was a great adventure," Zamka said after the shuttle rolled to a stop.

During their mission — which spanned two weeks and 5.7 million miles — the astronauts delivered and installed the 16-ton Tranquility module and its cupola, big dome with seven windows, giving the station a room with a view. .

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

"Welcome home," it radioed.

Tranquility already is serving as a base for life-support equipment, as well as a gym and restroom. The 10 men and one woman on the shuttle-station complex couldn't get enough of the views out the windows, once the shutters were raised last week.

The two new compartments were supplied by the European Space Agency at a cost of more than $400 million. Their addition brought the 11-year-old station to 98 percent completion.

The space station, a joint project involving 16 countries, has cost around $100 billion, mostly funded by the United States.

Endeavour's landing was the 23rd shuttle landing in darkness, out of 130 flights. The last time was in 2008, also by Endeavour.

All that's left are four shuttle flights to stock the space station with more experiments, spare parts and supplies. Discovery is scheduled to make the next trip April 5. Endeavour is scheduled to return to orbit, one last time, at the end of July.

The shuttle program ends this fall, after which the space station will be supplied by craft from Russia, Europe and Japan.

Space shuttle makes rare night landing 02/21/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 21, 2010 11:38pm]
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