US Space Shuttle Returns from Its Final Mission

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. space shuttle Endeavour returned to Earth early Wednesday after completing its final voyage to the International Space Station.

Commander Mark Kelly and his crew landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the 25th time the U.S. space agency, NASA, has landed a space shuttle in darkness, about a fifth of all missions.

He said it was “sad to see her land for the last time,” but that the shuttle “has a great legacy.” Endeavour will now be sent to a California museum.

Endeavour spent more than two weeks in space, delivering a $2 billion cosmic ray detector and spare parts to the space station.

Wednesday's landing ends Endeavour's 19-year space career and it becomes the second of three U.S. shuttles to be retired. NASA says Endeavour flew a total of 198 million kilometers in its 25 missions.

The shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to blast into space in July, in the last mission of the 30-year U.S. shuttle program.

With the shuttle program ending, NASA will have to depend on space vehicles owned by other countries or by private industry to deliver supplies and crew to the International Space Station.

In addition to Kelly, the six-member Endeavour crew included Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Kelly's wife, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is recovering from wounds suffered during a shooting in Arizona in January. She witnessed Endeavour's launch, but stayed at her rehabilitation center in Houston, Texas during the landing.