Atlantis arrives safely home

Nasa TV shows touchdownThe shuttle Atlantis landed safely today after its construction mission to the International Space Station.

The spacecraft with its crew of six touched down at Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre at 11.21am UK time while the US coast was still in darkness.

US astronaut Jeff Williams, 220 miles high aboard the space station, watched Atlantis’s bright trail as it began its fiery entry into the atmosphere. Sonic booms echoed to announce the shuttle’s approach.

Commander Brent Jett had guided the shuttle in to the three-mile-long Runway 33, descending at an angle seven times steeper than a commercial airliner and twice as fast.

The craft had been delayed a day coming home because of fears that a mystery object spotted outside in orbit had broken off the craft. But no problems were found in an extensive examination of its hull and wings.

Nasa are thrilled with the success of the Atlantis mission which added a giant 17-ton set of solar panels the size of a football pitch to the space station during three spacewalks.

They are likely now to return to launching the shuttle at night to help speed completion of the orbiting outpost before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale told staff: “We are back in the assembly business. This is one of the most complex missions that’s ever been flown in space. It has been an outstanding effort.”

The next scheduled shuttle flight is Discovery in early December.

The Nasa TV photo shows today’s touchdown.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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