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Space shuttle Discovery lands in Florida after delay

Windy, cloudy weather holds up the shuttle's return to Earth by about 90 minutes.

March 29, 2009|Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. — The space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven returned to Earth on Saturday and successfully wrapped up a construction mission that left the International Space Station with all its solar wings and extra electrical power.

Discovery swooped through a cloudy sky and landed at Kennedy Space Center in midafternoon, later than planned.

"Welcome home, Discovery, after a great mission," Mission Control radioed.

"It's good to be back home," said Discovery's commander, Lee Archambault.

Mission Control delayed Discovery's homecoming by about 90 minutes, or one orbit, because of windy, cloudy weather. But the wind shifted and conditions improved enough for the second and final landing opportunity of the day.

Discovery's 13-day flight -- which ended as a Russian-launched crew was settling into the space station -- was highlighted by the installation and unfurling of the station's last pair of solar wings. The $300-million addition brought the orbiting outpost up to full power, a vital part of NASA's plan to double the space station population and boost scientific research in a few months.

Discovery returned in good shape, after traveling more than 5 million miles and circling Earth 202 times. Even the area of the belly where a heat shield test was conducted during reentry looked to be fairly clean, officials said.

A new type of tile with a slight bump was attached beneath Discovery's left wing to disrupt the hypersonic airflow. Infrared images were taken by a Navy plane as the shuttle crossed the Gulf of Mexico so engineers could measure the extra heat generated on downstream tiles.

The space agency designed the tile as a potential improvement, a matter of keen interest ever since Columbia was destroyed during reentry in 2003.

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