Shuttle returns safely after heroic maintenance trip

DISCOVERY and its crew returned to Earth yesterday and concluded a 15-day space station build and repair mission that was among the most challenging — and heroic — in shuttle history.

The space shuttle touched down just after 1pm, after crossing the continent in the first coast-to-coast re-entry since the Columbia disaster almost five years ago.

Commander Pamela Melroy was greeted by crisp weather as she brought Discovery down.

The seven shuttle astronauts and three residents of the international space station teamed up during the docked mission to save a mangled solar wing. It was one of the most difficult and dangerous repairs ever attempted in orbit, but the future of the space station was riding on it and Scott Parazynski pulled it off in a single space walk.

“Congratulations on a tremendous mission and a great landing, Pam,” Mission Control radioed once the shuttle rolled to a stop.

“Hello there, it’s nice to be back in Florida,” said Ms Melroy.

On its way home, Discovery crossed over Canada’s British Columbia and made a diagonal descent over Montana, Wyoming, the Great Plains, the Deep South and into Florida.

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