The shuttle Endeavour swooped out of a late afternoon sky and glided to a smooth landing at the Kennedy Space Center to wrap up a nine-day, 3.6 million mile mission to deliver the final U.S. astronaut to the Russian Mir Space Station.
Commander Terry Wilcutt piloted Endeavour to an on-time touchdown on runway 1-5 at the Florida spaceport’s 3-mile long landing strip at 4:35 p.m. Central time, less than a half hour before sunset. Aboard Endeavour down on the middeck was astronaut Dave Wolf, who returned to Earth after 128 days in space, 119 of which were served as a crewmember aboard Mir. It was the 13th consecutive shuttle landing at KSC and the 20th in the last 21 missions.
Left behind on the orbiting Russian outpost is astronaut Andy Thomas, who is starting his four-month research mission as the final American to live and work on the 12-year old station. Earlier today, Thomas and his Mir 24 crewmates, Commander Anatoly Solovyev and Flight Engineer Pavel Vinogradov, greeted a new crew of cosmonauts following the successful docking of a Soyuz TM-27 craft with the station. Mir 25 Commander Talgat Musabayev guided the Soyuz to a soft docking with the outpost at 11:55 a.m. Central time following a two-day trip to the Mir since launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Thursday. An hour and a half later, hatches were opened between the Soyuz and the Mir and Musabayev, Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin and French research Leopold Eyharts were greeted by the resident crewmembers on the Mir.
Musabayev and Budarin will now conduct a three-week handover with Solovyev and Budarin while Eyharts and Thomas press ahead with their scientific experiments. Eyharts will return to Earth February 19 with Solovyev and Vinogradov.
At the Kennedy Space Center, Wilcutt and Wolf, along with their crewmates, Pilot Joe Edwards and Mission Specialists Jim Reilly, Bonnie Dunbar, Mike Anderson and Salizhan Sharipov, were to return to crew quarters where Wolf would begin a series of postflight medical tests at the outset of several weeks of physical rehabilitation following his long stay in weightlessness.
The astronauts are scheduled to spend the night at the Kennedy Space Center before flying back to Houston Sunday afternoon. Crew return at Ellington Field is scheduled for about 5:30 to 6 p.m. Central time Sunday.
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