Page last updated at 02:04 GMT, Sunday, 29 March 2009 03:04 UK

Nasa's Discovery returns to Earth


Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center

Nasa's space shuttle Discovery has landed after a 13-day mission to the International Space Station.

The shuttle touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hours after its return was postponed because of concerns about poor weather conditions.

Discovery's seven crew members installed an extra pair of solar wings on the International Space Station.

The shuttle launched on 15 March, docking with the ISS to deliver the final set of solar arrays.

An astronaut who had been stationed on the ISS for four months, Sandra Magnus, returned to Earth on Discovery.

"The wheels have stopped," said Commander Lee Archambault when the craft finally came to a halt.

Mission Control in Houston, Texas, told him: "Welcome home Discovery after a great mission of powering the International Space Station."

Cdr Archambault said it was "good to be back home".

Meanwhile, a Russian space capsule with an American billionaire passenger on board has docked with the ISS.

The passenger, Charles Simonyi, is a software designer and is making his second trip as a space tourist.

He was accompanied by Russian and American astronauts.


The shuttle undocked from the ISS on Wednesday after eight days there.

The crew spent five hours on Thursday inspecting the shuttle's outer surface using a laser and camera mounted on a 15m (50ft) boom connected to Discovery's robotic arm.

US space shuttle Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on 28 March 2009
The shuttle took new solar panels to the International Space Station

The images were then sent back to Mission Control as part of a routine procedure that ensures the integrity of the shuttle's heat-shield tiles.

The tiles are designed to dissipate heat as the orbiter returns to Earth through an increasingly thicker atmosphere.

Under the shuttle's left wing is a single tile that includes a "bump", which interrupts the normally smooth airflow around the tiles.

The disrupted airflow will increase the temperature of the tiles around it by a small amount and is part of a test of candidate tiles for future missions.

Current designs for those missions mean spacecraft will endure significantly more heat on re-entry than the space shuttles, which might be retired next year.

Nasa is preparing space shuttle Atlantis to be rolled out towards the launch pad on 31 March.

Atlantis is scheduled for a 12 May lift-off on a mission to service the Hubble Telescope. The mission has been delayed since October 2008.

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