Edwards (CA) – NASA’s Endeavour space shuttle and its crew landed on Sunday at 4:25 pm EDT at Edwards Air Force Base in California, concluding the 16-day STS-126 mission.
Poor weather conditions in Florida delayed the landing twice, but Chris Ferguson, who commanded the flight, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Donald Pettit, Steve Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Shane Kimbrough and flight engineer Greg Chamitoff touched down on Sunday at 4:25 pm EDT. Endeavour was originally planned to return to Kennedy Space Center, but wind rain and thunderstorms prevented two landings in Florida, which had been scheduled for 1:19 pm EDT and 2:54 pm EDT.
Flight engineer Sandra Magnus, who flew to with the team to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 14, stayed at the ISS and is expected to return with the next flight and mission STS-119, which is currently planned to take of on or around February 12, 2009. Magnus replaced Chamitoff at the ISS.
Endeavour will be transported approximately 2500 miles from California to Florida on the back of a modified 747 jumbo jet in “seven to ten days”. The cost of this transport is estimated at $1.7 million. Once at Kennedy Space Center, Endeavour will be separated from the aircraft to be prepared for its next flight, targeted for May 2009, NASA said.
The Sunday landing ended a 6.6 million mile journey and a “successful” mission. It included repair work and enables the ISS to house six crew members on long-duration missions beginning next year. The new station equipment includes a water recovery system, additional sleeping quarters, a second toilet and an exercise device. During four spacewalks, the crew serviced the station’s two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints, which allow its solar arrays to track the sun, and installed new hardware that will support future assembly missions. Among the unexpected events was the loss of a $100,000 tool bag that floated away into space.
STS-126 was the 124th space shuttle mission, the 22nd flight for Endeavour and the 27th shuttle visit to the ISS.
On STS-119, the shuttle Discovery is planned to deliver a final pair of U.S. solar arrays, which will be installed on the starboard end of the station’s truss. The truss serves as the backbone support for external equipment and spare components, NASA said.