Discovery Touches Down Safely in California

8-9-05 - Discovery and its crew of seven glided safely back to Earth on Tuesday, ending a riveting, at times agonizing, 14-day test of space shuttle safety that was shadowed by the ghosts of Columbia.

Discovery swooped through the darkness of the Mojave Desert and landed on the Edwards runway at 5:11 a.m. PDT, well before sunrise. It marked the conclusion of the first shuttle re-entry since Columbia's tragic return.

The detour to California came after thunderstorms in Cape Canaveral, Fla., prevented the shuttle from returning to its home base.

"Congratulations on a truly spectacular test flight," Mission Control said once Discovery came to a stop. "Welcome home, friends."

"We're happy to be back and we congratulate the whole team for a job well done," Commander Eileen Collins replied.

The inherently dangerous ride down through the atmosphere, more anxiety-ridden than normal because of what happened to Columbia 2 1/2 years ago, appeared to go smoothly. No problems were immediately reported by Mission Control.

Held up a day by bad weather in Florida, the shuttle soared across the Pacific and over Southern California, passing just north of Los Angeles on its way to Edwards. NASA adjusted the flight path in order to skirt Los Angeles because of new public safety considerations in the wake of the Columbia disaster, which rained debris onto Texas and Louisiana.

Discovery's journey, which began with a liftoff on July 26, spanned 219 orbits of Earth and 5.8 million miles.


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