Endeavour shuttle roars back to Earth

March 27th, 2008 - 11:13 am ICT by admin  

For minutes after the precisely timed landing, fire spewed from the spacecraft’s engines - a standard phenomenon that often goes unremarked by ordinary viewers during the more common daylight landings. The shuttle landed at 0039 GMT Thursday.

A crewmember called the mission “rewarding and exciting from start to ending”, according to the audio transmission from the landing monitored in Washington.

During five spacewalks at the orbiting station, Endeavour astronauts attached the first section of Japan’s experimental laboratory, Kibo, and the final parts of Canada’s robot arm Dextre.

They also stowed special equipment at the station that normally travels with the shuttle because there won’t be room for it on the next shuttle mission, Discovery, slated for launch May 25.

On board Endeavour was French astronaut Leopold Eyharts, returning to Earth after more than six weeks aboard the ISS, where he worked on the recently installed European laboratory Columbus.

US astronaut Garret Reisman was left behind to take his place on the three-person space station crew.

After the spacecraft touched down, ground control welcomed the crew in their various languages, including Japanese and French.

“Congrats to the entire crew for delivering the Japanese experimental module and Dextre to their new home,” the controller said.

He called it a “record” mission, which left “the station larger and more capable than before”.

Japan’s Kibo laboratory, when fully assembled over the coming missions, will allow astronauts to perform about 100 experiments that could aid the development of medications and test new materials in the weightless environment.

Japanese astronaut Takao Doi helped install the Kibo lab on the station.

The two-armed Dextre robot, which cost more than $200 million, is the final component of the station’s mobile servicing system for work outside the station.

The item left behind was a 17-metre-long boom - known as the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) - designed as a safety backstop to help the ageing shuttles perform post-launch self-examinations for tile damage.

It was added after the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster that killed all seven astronauts on board as they returned to Earth. Tears in the outer thermal skin that occurred on liftoff were blamed for accident, which delayed space station construction for several years.

Because of the size of the next piece of Japan’s Kibo laboratory being hauled to the station by Discovery shuttle in May, there won’t be room enough in the cargo bay for the OBSS, NASA officials explained.

Discovery will pick up the arm after it unloads the next Kibo piece from its cargo bay in the May mission.

NASA is hurrying to complete construction of the space station so it can retire the ageing, two-decade-old shuttles by 2010 and embark on a return-to-the-moon programme with a new design.

Astronauts will continue to travel to and from the station on Russia’s smaller Soyuz spacecraft, which cannot carry the heavy construction loads of the shuttle.

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