Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Endeavour lands safely at KSC to end career


Space shuttle Endeavour rolled to an on-time stop on Kennedy Space Center's Runway 15 this morning, bringing to a close a 6.5-million mile mission that will be the orbiter's last.

"It's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy," radioed Commander Mark Kelly as the wheels touched down. "It is really, really an incredible ship."

Endeavour's on-time landing capped a 16-day mission to the International Space Station, and brought the space shuttle program a giant step closer to retirement.

Only one mission remains, and in a history-making day Atlantis - the final shuttle scheduled to fly - crept toward launchpad 39A just as Endeavour rolled to a stop. Atlantis is targeting a July 8 liftoff.

Endeavour's six-man crew delivered a $2 billion cosmic ray detector to the station and carried out four spacewalks.

The crew also included Pilot Greg H. Johnson and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Andrew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori. All were veteran space fliers.

Endeavour's mission drew intense attention not only because it was the shuttle program's next-to-last flight, but also for the personal drama that surrounded Kelly.

Ahead of landing, Kelly reflected on his decision to stick with the flight while his wife, Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, continued her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head in a January assassination attempt.

"In hindsight, it was absolutely the right decision," said Kelly, who was expected to return to Houston today to see Giffords.

Next up for Endeavour: retirement at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.


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