Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 14:08 UK

Space shuttle Discovery returns to Earth

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Space shuttle Discovery lands in Florida

The shuttle Discovery has landed back on Earth after a two-week mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The orbiter touched down on runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center at 0908 local time (1308 GMT).

Discovery had been held in space earlier in the day by stubborn fog and showers in the Kennedy area, but was eventually given the "go" to descend.

The orbiter has restocked the station with science racks, new sleeping quarters, equipment and supplies.

The shuttle's astronauts conducted three spacewalks while at the platform, installing a new ammonia storage tank for the ISS's cooling system, a gyroscope for the station's navigation system, and to retrieve a Japanese experiment from outside the Kibo laboratory.

The mission was notable for bringing together four female astronauts on orbit for the first time.

Permanent addition

Discovery's de-orbit route was the first since 2007 to pass over a great swathe of North America. Most recent shuttles missions have come back to Florida by flying over Central America and the Gulf.

For this descent, the ship swept in over Canada, crossing through the states of Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, before finally turning to land at the Florida spaceport.

There are three further shuttle missions planned by the US space agency before its orbiter fleet is retired later this year. Discovery itself is expected to undertake the very last flight.

The latest mission used the Leonardo Multi-purpose Logostics Module to carry materials to and from the station. Leonardo will also now be prepared for the final flight which will see it left attached to the station as a permanent store room.

New destinations

President Barack Obama visited Kennedy last week to reassure space workers that his planned changes to US space policy could generate thousands of jobs in the area to offset those that will be lost post-shuttle.

The White House wants to close down Nasa's Moon-bound Constellation programme and its associated rockets and crew ship.

Constellation activities would have superseded shuttle work at Kennedy.

Instead, Mr Obama now wants the commercial sector to lift astronauts to the ISS, while Nasa concentrates on the task of taking humans to challenging new destinations, starting with a visit to an asteroid from 2025.



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