Shuttle returns to Earth

Space shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts took a cross-country detour and landed safely in California after stormy weather prevented them from returning home to Florida for the second day in a row.

Discovery swooped through the sky and touched down at Edwards Air Force Base an hour before sunset, ending its delivery trip to the international space station.

“Welcome home, Discovery,” Mission Control radioed. “Congratulations on an extremely successful mission.”

Stormy weather made it too risky to bring Discovery back to its home port, so flight director Richard Jones opted for the sunny skies of the Mojave Desert.

Nasa prefers Florida landings because the cross-country ferry trip, which involves transporting the shuttle atop a modified jumbo jet, costs $1.7m (€1.2m) and takes more than a week.

Thunderstorms also delayed the beginning of Discovery’s mission. The shuttle blasted off on August 28 and logged 5.7 million miles.

Discovery and its crew, led by commander Rick Sturckow, dropped off tons of supplies and equipment, including a five million US dollars treadmill named after Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert.

That was his consolation prize after pushing for naming rights to a new space station room.

Nasa chose Tranquillity for the yet-to-be-launched room, even though Colbert won the online vote.

The treadmill will be assembled later this month. The space station’s newest resident, Nicole Stott, who rode up on Discovery, is expected to break it in as the first runner.

Coming back aboard Discovery was the astronaut whom Stott replaced, Timothy Kopra. He spent nearly two months in orbit and said he was looking forward to seeing his wife and two children, and enjoying a sip of beer.

Also hitching a ride back was Buzz Lightyear. The 12-inch action figure of the character from the movie 'Toy Story' flew up in mid-2008 as part of an educational programme. The doll will return to Walt Disney World for a tickertape parade at the beginning of October.

Discovery’s crew performed three spacewalks at the space station, installing a fresh tank of ammonia coolant, new antennas and cabling for Tranquillity, the living quarters due to arrive early next year.

One cable connector could not be hooked up, and that ended up being one of the few snags of the 14-day shuttle flight. Nasa is devising repairs for the next shuttle visitors in November.

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