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Space shuttle lands safely in California

点击量:   时间:2017-05-18 01:01:06

By New Scientist Space, Reuters and AFP (Image: NASA TV) The space shuttle Atlantis touched down on Friday in California’s Mojave Desert after rain and thick clouds prevented it from returning to its home port in Florida. Safely back from a two-week mission to the International Space Station, the shuttle and seven astronauts landed at Edwards Air Force Base, its backup landing site, at 1549 EDT (1949 GMT), after a fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere. Bad weather forced NASA to call off attempts to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on both Thursday and Friday. The shuttle is barred from landing in rain due to potential damage to the thousands of black ceramic tiles that protect its underside from the searing heat of re-entry through the atmosphere. NASA would have preferred to land the shuttle in Florida, though, since it costs nearly $2 million to return it from California piggy-backed atop a Boeing 747 jet. Atlantis was returning from a nine-day stay at the International Space Station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that is a little more than half finished. The shuttle carted a third pair of power-producing solar wing panels to the outpost and its crew conducted four spacewalks to install them, fold up another older wing that will be moved to a new location and install equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of additional laboratories. The astronauts also were called upon to repair a hole in the heat shield on Atlantis, which arrived in orbit with a corner of an insulating blanket torn loose. The space agency has been meticulous about scouring the shuttles for damage once they reach orbit since a heat shield failure triggered the destruction of the shuttle Columbia in 2003 and the deaths of seven astronauts. The crew also delivered a new astronaut to the station. Clayton Anderson replaced station flight engineer Sunita Williams, who is returning home aboard Atlantis after a record-breaking six months in space. She surpassed Shannon Lucid’s 188-day mission for the longest-duration spaceflight by a woman. NASA needs to fly 12 more construction missions to finish building the station before the end of 2010,