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Friday, June 12, 1998 Published at 22:42 GMT 23:42 UK


Space shuttle returns to Earth

Discovery returns from last mission to Mir

The American space shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts have returned to Earth safely at the end of Nasa's final mission to the Russian space station Mir.

Video report on the shuttle's mission
It descended on time from a partly cloudy sky to touch down on the five-kilometre long runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Discovery's hour-long descent through the atmosphere from an altitude of 227 miles began with a firing of the shuttle's twin braking rockets.

[ image: Back to Earth]
Back to Earth
As soon as the $2bn space shuttle touched down, Mission Control radioed congratulations to the entire crew.

The landing wrapped up NASA's final mission to Mir, ending a three-year partnership between Russia and America.

The space shuttle brought home the last American cosmonaut on the Russian station, Andrew Thomas.

Mr Thomas, who spent nearly five months in orbit, rode back to earth on the shuttle's lower deck in a reclined seat, designed to cushion his body against the pull of gravity.

[ image: Mir has been in orbit for 12 years]
Mir has been in orbit for 12 years
The 46-year-old is one of around 100 people - including Russians, Americans, Europeans, Japanese and others - who have visited the space station.

The idea behind Mir when it was launched into orbit 13 years ago was to maintain a long-term human presence in space.

It was also meant to be a preparatory and experimental base for the larger International Space Station (ISS) of the 21st Century.

The Russians plan to keep Mir in orbit 1999 and then let it burn up in the atmosphere.

The next joint venture by America and Russia in space will be the construction of the space outpost. Building is to begin in orbit at the end of the year.

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