Feb 19, 2008

Space Shuttle Atlantis Heads Home

The US space shuttle Atlantis left the International Space Station on Monday and headed home for a planned Wednesday landing. This returning of Atlantis cleared the way for a US Defense Department effort to shoot down a failed spy satellite.

The shuttle and its seven-member crew left the station after almost nine days of joint operations, during which they installed the $2 billion Columbus science laboratory of the European Space Agency.

The space shuttle, flown by Cmdr. Alan G. Poindexter of the Navy, made a full circle around the station as its crew photographed every detail, including the new 28,200-pound Columbus module. It then pulled farther from the station and conducted a four-hour laser inspection of the shuttle’s wing leading edges and nose cone to make sure the craft’s heat shield was undamaged before it lands.

LeRoy Cain, head of the mission management team, said later Monday that the shuttle was in good shape and that there were no technical issues standing in the way of a safe landing. The weather looks favorable at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Edwards Air Force Base, the backup landing site in California, he said. Link


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