The shuttle mission that didn't get off the ground until its sixth scheduled launch attempt earlier this month made it home much more smoothly, landing this morning during its first opportunity to do so. Endeavour returned to Earth at 10:48 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time), touching down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida under blue skies.
In a 16-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the seven-member crew of Endeavour delivered and installed the final pieces of the station's Japanese Kibo science lab. NASA now rates the ISS as 83 percent complete—only recently did it reach its design capacity of six resident crew members. With the shuttle slated to be retired next year, NASA has a packed full manifest of launches so that the ISS can be finished before the U.S. loses its capacity to send humans into orbit.
The shuttle and ISS exchanged a crew member during the mission—NASA astronaut Tim Kopra remains on the station and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata returns home after four and a half months on the ISS.
Endeavour's rocky start stemmed first from a pair of delays relating to hydrogen leaks at the launch pad, followed by three weather-related postponements. Weather can pose a problem for touchdowns in Florida as well—in May, the landing of space shuttle Atlantis, returning from a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, was twice delayed by bad weather at Kennedy before NASA diverted the orbiter to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Photo: NASA TV