EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE — The space shuttle Atlantis returned safely to Earth on Sunday after dropping off an astronaut on the Russian space station Mir and overcoming mechanical problems that almost forced an emergency landing.
The shuttle ended its nine-day, 3.8-million-mile mission, touching down here during a spectacular Mojave Desert sunrise.
"Welcome back, Atlantis," Mission Control announced. "Congratulations on successfully delivering Shannon."
"It sure feels good to be home," flight commander Kevin Chilton responded.
The crew delivered biochemist Shannon Lucid and more than two tons of cargo to Mir and transferred 1,200 pounds of equipment from Mir to the shuttle.
For two days, cloudy skies over Florida prevented the shuttle from landing at Kennedy Space Center, which would have saved NASA the $1 million it costs to transport the shuttle coast-to-coast.
Still, the shuttle almost had to make an emergency landing Saturday after its planned landing was called off. Two switches indicated that the cargo bay doors that must be open during orbit to dispel heat collected from equipment had not opened. After looking out portholes to confirm the latches were open, the crew overrode the automatic system to open the doors manually.
At a news conference Sunday, shuttle manager Tommy Holloway said he saw no pattern in the mechanical glitches that have troubled the last several missions. The next shuttle mission is a 10-day science mission aboard Endeavour, set for May.