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Space shuttle Endeavour lands safely in California

The Space Shuttle Endeavour lands in the Mojave Desert instead of the Kennedy Space Center because of deteriorating weather conditions at the Florida landing site on November 30, 2008 at Edwards Air Force Base near Rosamond, California. The landing concludes mission STS-126 to the International Space Station on November 14 to prepare the space station for long-duration missions. The astronauts performed four spacewalks to service two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints, which allow the solar arrays to track the sun, and installed new equipment including a water recovery system, an exercise device, a second toilet, and additional sleeping quarters to accommodate six crew members. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) Nov 30, 2008
The US space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven landed safely Sunday at a California air base to conclude a 16-day mission to double living capacity at the International Space Station.

NASA's shuttle descended through a clear blue sky over the Mojave Desert to touch down at 1:25 pm local time (2125 GMT) at Edwards Air Force Base, hours after bad weather forced US space agency officials to switch the landing venue from the traditional site of Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"Welcome back, it's a fantastic finish to a fantastic flight," Alan Poindexter, an official at NASA's control center in Houston, Texas, told Endeavour's crew moments after it touched down and rolled to a stop at 1:25 pm (2125 GMT) at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of Los Angeles.

"We are happy to be here in California," shuttle commander Chris Ferguson replied.

Poindexter had earlier told the crew that forecasts for conditions at Cape Canaveral were not expected to improve significantly over the next day, prompting the change of landing venue.

Endeavour needed to land by Tuesday, by which point it would have nearly exhausted its supplies of oxygen and water as well as its hydrogen batteries, which supply electricity.

NASA does not wait until the last minute to bring a shuttle back to Earth.

During the shuttle's 63-minute dive towards the California desert, approaching from the Pacific Ocean, temperatures soared to nearly 1,500 degrees Celsius on Endeavour's thermal tile-protected wings, nose and belly as it raced through the denser layers of the atmosphere from about 130 kilometers (81 miles) above Earth.

Two of the shuttle's small motors were turned on for just under three minutes at 2019 GMT in order to slow Endeavour down to 328 kilometers (204 miles) per hour from its previous speed of 28,000 kilometers (17,000 miles) per hour as it orbited the Earth.

The arrival of the shuttle was heralded by a double sonic boom, while shortly after touchdown Endeavour deployed a red and white parachute to slow the craft to a halt, live images from NASA Television showed.

Endeavour spent 12 days docked at the International Space Station (ISS) where its crew delivered 14.5 tonnes of equipment on a mission billed as an "extreme home improvement" to double the station's crew capacity from three to six.

The Endeavour crew delivered, among other facilities, two new sleeping quarters, two ovens and a refrigerator to the ISS.

Just after the Endeavour undocked Friday from the ISS, a final inspection of its nose cap and wing leading edge panels was conducted by camera and laser device.

NASA's Mission Management Team then cleared Endeavour's thermal shield for a safe entry and landing, said the team's chairman, LeRoy Cain.

Endeavour spent 16 days in orbit, 12 of them docked at the ISS, and traveled a total of 10.6 million kilometers (6.6 million miles).

During their mission, Endeavour astronauts took four space walks to successfully repair a jammed joint on one of three rotating solar panels that harvest energy for the orbiting station.

Technical problems with a new piece of equipment that recycles waste water caused NASA to extend the mission by a day.

The 250-million-dollar device was an essential part of the shuttle mission to double the station's accommodation capacity.

Crew members ran three successful cycles on the unit, designed to process urine, perspiration and bath water into drinkable water.

Once up and running, the unit will be able to recycle the station's 6.8 tons of waste water produced each year, eliminating the need to regularly ferry vast quantities of water to the space station.

Samples of the drinking water produced by the machine were brought back to Earth for analysis.

The Endeavour mission is the last by a US space shuttle in 2008. The next shuttle flight is scheduled for February, with another mission to continue building the space station.

The ISS should be completed in 2010, also the target date for the retirement of the US fleet of three space shuttles.

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NASA Adds Seven To ISS In Flawless Launch And Docking
Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) Nov 15, 2008
The space shuttle Endeavour sped Saturday to its rendezvous with the International Space Station, carrying seven American astronauts on a "home improvement" mission that will expand the station's living quarters.

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