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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 10:29 GMT
Shuttle lands safely in Florida
Space shuttle Endeavour lands in Florida, BBC
The space shuttle performed a perfect touchdown
The US space shuttle Endeavour has landed safely at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, bringing home the crew from the International Space Station (ISS) who have been in orbit since August.

ISS commander Frank Culbertson and cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin returned with "smiles on their faces", according to shuttle commander Dominic Gorie.

"We're very grateful to be home for Christmas," said US astronaut Frank Culbertson shortly after landing.

The shuttle touched down, as planned, at 1255 local time (1755 GMT), despite a delayed departure from the ISS because of concerns about a possible collision with space debris.

We are looking forward to getting home for Christmas, especially Frank and his crew

Shuttle commander Dominic Gorie
It had been feared that bad weather might delay touchdown, and experts at the American space agency (Nasa) waited until the last minute before giving the go-ahead to the seven astronauts and cosmonauts on board.

The three men were in space during the 11 September attacks.

At the time, they were able to see smoke rising from the burning twin towers from 250 miles (400 kilometres) up as they orbited over North America.

Victims remembered

"That was a horrible thing to see from space, to know that terrible things were happening on Earth like that and we were so far away from our own families," Commander Culbertson said over the weekend.

Last week, the crew of Endeavour and the ISS held a televised memorial service for those who died in the attacks.

Yuri Onufrienko, left, salutes Frank Culbertson, AFP
A new crew has taken over on board the ISS
And Endeavour has also been carrying thousands of small American flags that will be mounted on certificates and distributed to relatives of the victims, as well as some of those who survived the attacks.

Just like its launch on 5 December, Endeavour's landing was under tight security to protect against any possible terrorist strike.

Four attack helicopters flew in formation over the Kennedy Space Center shortly before touchdown.


"We are looking forward to getting home for Christmas, especially Frank and his crew," shuttle commander Dominic Gorie said before landing.

Earlier on Monday, the seven US and Russian astronauts on board Endeavour woke up to the tune Please Come Home For Christmas, by rock group Bon Jovi.

The space station seen from Endeavour, AFP
The ISS has moved into a higher orbit
The families of the three returning ISS crew were at the Kennedy Space Center awaiting the spacemen's return.

The three men were strong enough to walk off the shuttle despite spending 129 days in orbit.

But after spending so long in space, they have several weeks of rehabilitation ahead of them.

They will "build up gradually the strength and flexibility and balance skills that have basically been on vacation the last four months", said Nasa flight surgeon Dr Stephen Hart.

The shuttle delivered the new space station crew: Russian Commander Yuri Onufrienko and Americans Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz.

Before leaving the outgoing crew passed on a small fabric Christmas tree and candy canes for their colleagues who are scheduled to remain on the ISS until mid-May.

The BBC's Fergal Parkinson
"The first mission since the events of 11 September"
See also:

16 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Space station evades debris
15 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Space station dodges floating debris
25 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Space debris warning
14 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Space crew take control
10 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Space memorial for 11 September
08 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Shuttle docks with space station
12 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Nasa makes space tourism U-turn
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