17 July 2006

space shuttle safely returns

Space Shuttle Discovery Lands Safely at 8:14 am cdt.

Jul 17, 9:24 AM EDT

AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Space shuttle Discovery and its crew of six returned to Earth through overcast skies Monday, ending a successful mission that put NASA back in the space station construction business.

Discovery glided down through cloud cover onto the Kennedy Space Center runway at 9:14 a.m., giving NASA its first big success since before the 2003 Columbia disaster.

Visibility was so limited that shuttle commander Steven Lindsey couldn't spot the runway until about a minute before landing.

"Welcome back Discovery and congratulations on a great mission," Mission Control told Lindsey after Discovery rolled to a stop.

"It was a great mission. A really great mission," Lindsey replied.

The shuttle came in from the south, swooping over the Pacific, Yucatan Peninsula, Gulf of Mexico and across Florida to cap a 5.3 million-mile journey that began on the Fourth of July. A last-minute buildup of clouds prompted NASA to switch the shuttle's direction for landing.

At touchdown, hoots and whistles came from the few hundred relatives of astronauts and space center workers watching the landing.