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Shuttle Landing

Atlantis Returns Safely to Earth

By Brad Liston

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.  (Sept. 20) - The space shuttle Atlantis made a pre-dawn 
landing at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, ending a 12-day mission to 
stock the International Space Station with everything from oxygen to shampoo.

The seven U.S. and Russian astronauts opened the newest space-station module, 
the Russian-built Zvezda, and brought its power and communications systems 
fully online.

Zvezda will be headquarters to rotating long-duration crews throughout the 
construction of the orbiting science outpost some 240 miles above Earth.

The shuttle roared back into the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, 
crossing southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula before reaching Florida.

Mission commander Terrence Wilcutt took manual control of the rapidly 
descending shuttle and performed a series of maneuvers to reduce speed before 
touching down on the space center runway at 3:56 a.m. EDT (0756 GMT).

"Welcome home. Congratulations on an outstanding job. We are proud of you and 
proud of this team," Mission Control told the astronauts after Atlantis had 
rolled to a stop.

Weather was a concern before the landing, but rain clouds stayed more than 30 
miles (50 km) away, allowing NASA to give the green light.

The crew will go home to Houston on Thursday.


The space mission included a week of docked operations aboard the 
International Space Station as the astronauts readied the 13-story 
construction site for the arrival of its first resident crew in November.

In the three tons of equipment and supplies left behind were a toilet, 
exercise machines and laptop computers.

The station is in the early stages of construction and will not be completed 
before 2006. It is a joint project of the United States, Russia, Europe, 
Japan and Canada.

During construction, the Russian Zvezda module, which arrived in July, will 
combine several elements of traditional shipboard life: bridge, galley, mess 
and crew quarters.

This was a by-the-numbers mission. It was the first shuttle mission in two 
years to launch on time.

Most of the primary tasks -- docking, cargo logistics and spacewalking work 
outside the station -- were perfected on earlier missions.

The crew worked quickly and efficiently, conserving enough fuel so it could 
add an extra day to the flight. That let it get ahead on a number of tasks 
that would otherwise have been left to the Expedition One crew in November.


One new wrinkle involved spacewalking astronauts Edward Lu and Yuri 
Malenchenko, who tethered themselves to the station rather than to the 
shuttle, working their way up the 13-story structure like rock climbers who 
belay themselves as the go. The method has been used by Russian spacewalkers 
on the space station Mir for years.

Another highlight was pilot Scott Altman's televised tours of Zvezda. The 
crew took turns sleeping aboard the station -- the first crew to do so -- and 
reported no problems with noise or air quality, which had caused concern 
before Zvezda's launch.

The mission began a year of what NASA hopes will be heightened activity, with 
as many as 15 launches scheduled in in the United States and Russia.

As NASA brought one space shuttle home, another was getting ready to take its 
place in space. The shuttle Discovery is already on its launch pad, 
undergoing final preparations for an Oct. 5 launch.

The mission will involve less work inside the station -- the crew does not 
plan to open Zvezda at all -- but includes four very challenging spacewalks. 
Astronauts will attach the centerpiece of a massive truss that will 
eventually hold the largest solar-power array ever seen in space.

Atlantis' next mission is scheduled for January, when the orbiter will take 
the U.S. laboratory module, Destiny, aloft.


Atlantis Returns To Earth 
By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Space shuttle Atlantis (news - web sites) and its 
crew of seven swooped through the pre-dawn darkness and landed Wednesday, 
ending a successful mission to outfit the international space station.

``Congratulations on an outstanding job. We are proud of you all,'' Mission 
Control told the astronauts.

Powerful xenon lights illuminated the 3-mile-long runway as Atlantis emerged 
from the gloom like a ghost ship, with a half-moon as a backdrop. Touchdown 
was right on time, at 3:56 a.m., just as launch was back on Sept. 8.

It was only the 15th nighttime landing in space shuttle history. Nighttime 
landings are becoming more common, though, now that NASA (news - web sites) 
has a space station in orbit. All three previous shuttle flights to the space 
station also ended in darkness.

The freshly stocked space station was soaring 240 miles above the Atlantic 
when Atlantis touched down. It will be visited by shuttle astronauts again in 
just two weeks; its first full-time residents will move in at the beginning 
of November.

``We had a great time,'' commander Terrence Wilcutt said after inspecting his 
ship. ``We're all glad to be back.''

Wilcutt and his crew spent eight days at the space station, five of them 
inside. By the time they left Sunday night, they had hauled in and tucked 
away 3 tons of equipment.

Among the supplies: shampoo, cream, shaving gel, moist towels and napkins, 
Russian and American meals, ear plugs, medical kits, labels, printer parts, 
clamps, brackets, camera equipment and small bags for the first permanent 
crew to use to relieve themselves in case the toilet jams.

The shuttle astronauts also installed the toilet, oxygen generator and 
treadmill in the new living quarters, and ran power and TV cables up the 

Getting an extra day helped. NASA stretched the mission to 12 days to give 
the astronauts more time inside.

``They did an amazing job this mission. They made everything look so easy,'' 
flight director Jeff Bantle said. ``This moved us, I would say, a significant 
step closer to getting a crew on board this vehicle.''

The only disappointment was with one of five new batteries that were plugged 
into the Russian modules. It would not charge properly and was disconnected; 
the first residents will deal with the problem when they arrive.

Another crew is scheduled to depart for the space station on Oct. 5 aboard 
Discovery, making NASA's 100th shuttle flight.

Unlike this mission, most of the work will be outside next time. Four 
spacewalks are planned to wire up the first piece of station truss, or 
girder, and a new shuttle docking port, and to install tool boxes and power 

NASA plans to use spacesuit parts from this mission on Discovery's flight. 
Workers hurriedly will remove the spacewalking suits from Atlantis so the 
emergency oxygen packs can be installed in Discovery's garments, NASA 
engineer Phil West said.

The regulators in all of NASA's emergency oxygen packs were found in June to 
be contaminated with potentially flammable oil. The packs in the suits aboard 
Atlantis were cleaned. NASA does not have enough time to scrub more packs, 
however, and therefore will reuse at least two of the ones that flew on 
Atlantis, West said.

Discovery's mission will clear the way for the launch of space station 
commander Bill Shepherd and his two-cosmonaut crew aboard a Russian rocket on 
Oct. 30. They will arrive at the orbiting complex two days later and stay 
four months.

As for Atlantis, it will return to the space station in January, carrying the 
first lab module named Destiny.

Space station assembly is expected to last until 2006.

``There's a lot of work that has to be done,'' cautioned NASA Administrator 
Daniel Goldin. ``We're only 800,000 pounds more to go to orbit.''


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