The Space Shuttle Columbia landed at Kennedy Space Center early Tuesday after a 10-day, 22-hour and 10-minute mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Columbia astronauts conducted five successful spacewalks during their STS-109 mission to improve the orbiting observatory.
Columbia's main landing gear touched down at 3:32 a.m. CST, completing a mission that covered 3,941,705 statue miles.
Commander Scott Altman, Pilot Duane Carey, and Mission Specialist/Flight Engineer Nancy Currie brought Columbia smoothly back to Earth. They fired the shuttle's orbital maneuvering system engines at 2:23 a.m., while Columbia was over the Indian Ocean, to begin their descent from orbit.
Their ground track took them across the Pacific Ocean and the coast of Baja California, then on an almost due east heading across the southern United States. The plasma trail of the orbiter was visible as it passed over Houston to some flight controllers at Houston's Mission Control Center who took a moment to go outside and watch it move quickly across the northern sky.
Florida weather remained good for the landing, though there had been some concern earlier in the day about formation of ground fog. It did not materialize, and Columbia landed right on time.
Mission Specialists John Grunsfeld, Jim Newman, Rick Linnehan and Mike Massimino completed the five spacewalks, working in teams of two on alternate days. They gave the Hubble new solar arrays, an advanced new camera and installed a cooling system to revive another instrument. They also installed a new power control unit to route electricity from the arrays to batteries and instruments, and a new reaction wheel assembly to help point the telescope.
Tuesday's landing was the 58th for a shuttle at Kennedy Space Center and the 14th night landing there. Five other missions have ended with night landings at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
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