Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Sunday, 24 May 2009 15:47 UK

Shuttle Atlantis begins descent

Atlantis (Nasa)
Atlantis was supposed to return to Florida on Friday

The space shuttle Atlantis has begun its descent to Earth, after bad weather at the Florida landing site forced Nasa to cancel an earlier attempt.

The orbiter will now have to land Edwards Air Force Base in California, the US space agency said.

At 1524 BST (1024 EDT), Atlantis fired its engines for a few minutes to slow itself down enough to begin re-entry.

The shuttle is now scheduled to touch down at 1639 BST (1139 EDT) at the military base in the Mojave Desert.

Atlantis is returning after an ambitious and risky mission to refurbish the Hubble telescope.

Five spacewalks

The shuttle has enough supplies to remain in orbit until Monday if necessary.

Its mission was intended to give a new lease of life to Hubble.

The orbiting observatory is regarded as one of the most important scientific tools ever built.

The fifth and final mission to service Hubble has been hailed as a great success.

Over five spacewalks, astronauts installed new instruments and thermal blankets, repaired two existing instruments, replaced gyroscopes and batteries.

The only disappointment was the failure to restore the high-resolution channel (one of three) on Hubble's main camera - the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

The US space agency cleared Atlantis for its fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere following in-flight inspections of its heat shield by the crew.

The Hubble telescope was released from the shuttle's robotic arm on Tuesday.



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