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Shuttle Lands

Space Shuttle Lands in California

.c The Associated Press

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (Feb. 20) - Space shuttle Atlantis and its
crew landed in the Mojave Desert on Tuesday after three straight days of bad
weather prevented the ship from returning to its Florida home port.

Atlantis glided through a hazy sky and touched down at 12:33 p.m. - 13 days
after lifting off for the international space station. During the mission,
the five astronauts delivered and installed a $1.4 billion laboratory that
is considered the most sophisticated research module ever to fly in space.

''Welcome back to Earth after placing our Destiny in space,'' Mission
Control said, referring to the new laboratory.

Thick, low clouds kept Atlantis from touching down at Kennedy Space Center
in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Tuesday. On the previous two days, the problem
was gusty wind.

The weather was OK at Edwards Air Force Base, the backup landing site, and
Mission Control gave the go-ahead for the astronauts to finally come down.
They had just one more day's worth of fuel and supplies.

''Pass to all the folks down at KSC and our families there that we're sorry
we won't see them right away, but we appreciate it making it home somewhere
today,'' shuttle commander Kenneth Cockrell told Mission Control.

Space shuttle landings are infrequent at Edwards, which served as the main
touchdown site until the early 1990s. The last shuttle landing at Edwards
was in October. The last one before that was in 1996.

An Edwards landing requires the shuttle to be ferried back to Florida atop a
modified Boeing 747 at a cost of nearly $1 million.

Because of the weather delays, Cockrell and his crew spent two days circling
Earth with little to do except gaze at Earth, snap pictures and exercise on
a stationary cycle.

During their one week at space station Alpha, the astronauts delivered and
then hooked up NASA's most expensive piece of the space station, the Destiny

Three spacewalks were needed to install the lab, hang a shutter on its
porthole - the finest optical-quality window ever built into a spacecraft -
and attach other gear to the space station.

It will be another few weeks before Destiny gets any science experiments;
space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to lift off March 8 with the first
batch. But already, the computer-filled lab module is controlling the
steering of the space station and saving precious rocket-thruster fuel.

With the addition of Destiny, Alpha now has more live-in space than any of
the world's previous space stations. The space station stretches 171 feet in
length, 28 feet longer than before.

The next major component to fly to the space station, in April, is the
Canadian-built robot arm. An American-made airlock, a pressure-change room
for spacewalkers, is supposed to go up in June.

At least two more laboratories, supplied by the Europeans and Japanese, are
to be delivered before space station construction ends in 2006.

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