By MATTHEW FORDAHL
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Space shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts landed in California’s Mojave Desert on today after dangerously high wind prevented a touchdown in Florida for the third day in a row.
The shuttle swooped through a clear sky and touched down on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base about 2 p.m. PDT, ending a 13-day flight during which the astronauts got the international space station ready for the arrival of its first full-time residents next week.
It was the 100th space shuttle flight for NASA and the first time in 4 1/2years that a shuttle was detoured to California. The shuttle zoomed across the Pacific and right over Los Angeles, then northward into Edwards on the final approach.
“Welcome back to Earth after a super successful mission,” Mission Control said after Discovery rolled to a safe stop.
“Great to be back,” replied commander Brian Duffy.
Gusts of close to 30 mph forced NASA to pass up a landing attempt at Cape Canaveral, Fla., earlier in the day. The wind also kept the shuttle from landing in Florida on Sunday and Monday, while rain clouds at Edwards on Monday scuttled landing plans there.
To the astronauts’ relief, the weather was ideal at Edwards today.
“After a rough couple days of weather, Edwards is giving you the best it has to offer,” Mission Control said.
During their flight, Duffy and his crew installed two new segments on the outside of the space station and also spruced up the inside for the three men who will be moving in for four months. They conducted four spacewalks on four consecutive days, an exceptional – and exhausting – amount of work.
The astronauts toiled from morning to night, from the time they rocketed into orbit on Oct. 11 until their departure from the space station on Friday. A broken antenna and a short circuit made their work even more difficult.
Now the spotlight shifts to Russia and Kazakstan.
Astronaut Bill Shepherd and two cosmonauts are scheduled to lift off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakstan on Oct. 31. They will arrive at the 240-mile-high space station two days later.
The next shuttle flight is a trip to the space station by Endeavour in early December, to carry up giant solar panels. Discovery, meanwhile, is supposed to return to the space station in February, to pick up Shepherd and his crew and drop off their replacements.
That retrieval mission may be delayed, however, because of the landing in California. The ferry trip to Florida takes about one week and costs nearly $1 million.
Space shuttles have landed 45 times before at Edwards. Until the early 1990s, it served as NASA’s main touchdown site.
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