Shuttle Atlantis Crew Returns Home After Successful Mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew landed at 9:07 a.m. EST Wednesday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., after completing a 13-day journey of nearly 5.3 million miles in space. The STS-122 mission expanded the size and research capabilities of the International Space Station with the delivery of the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory.
Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier described STS-122 as one of the program's most successful space station construction missions.
"These missions are extremely challenging, and a great deal of preparation and teamwork are required to get these vehicles ready to fly," Gerstenmaier said. "We're focused on completing assembly and moving into the full utilization phase of the station. This mission opens the door for another one of our international partners to join in the important work and science on the space station."
Steve Frick commanded the flight and was joined by Pilot Alan Poindexter, Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Love and European Space Agency astronauts Hans Schlegel from Germany and Leopold Eyharts from France. Eyharts remained aboard the space station, replacing Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Dan Tani, who returned to Earth on Atlantis after nearly four months on the station. Eyharts will return on shuttle Endeavour's STS-123 mission, currently targeted for launch on March 11, 2008.
The mission included three spacewalks to outfit Columbus with power, data and cooling cables, installation of two science experiments on the lab's exterior, replacement of an expended nitrogen tank on the space station's cooling system, and retrieval of a failed space station control moment gyroscope -- a device that helps control the orientation of the station -- for its return to Earth.
Several inspections in orbit revealed no damage to Atlantis, and the shuttle's thermal protection system was declared safe for re-entry on Tuesday. Workers immediately will begin processing the Atlantis for its next flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope, targeted for Aug. 28.
STS-122 was the 121st space shuttle flight, the 29th flight for shuttle Atlantis and the 24th flight to the station.
With Atlantis and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the next phase of station assembly. The STS-123 mission will deliver the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo logistics module and Canada's new robotics system, Dextre, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, to the station.
For more about the STS-122 mission and the upcoming STS-123 mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle
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