Space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven returned to Earth on Saturday and capped a successful expansion job at the international space station, more spacious and robust thanks to a new billion-dollar science lab.
The shuttle landed at 11:15 a.m., under the control of commander Mark Kelly.
Two hours later, all the astronauts – including Garrett Reisman, looking remarkably fresh and fit after 95 days in space – walked out, shook hands with NASA's senior managers and admired the ship that safely brought them home. Reisman said he enjoyed feeling the sunshine again.
Discovery's flight spanned 14 days, 217 orbits and 5.7 million miles, and was described by NASA as being about as smooth as it gets.
Kelly and his crew accomplished everything they set out to do in orbit. They delivered and installed Japan's Kibo lab, now the space station's biggest room and most sophisticated science workshop, and dropped off a new pump that the two Russians onboard used to fix their toilet.
The space station also got a new American resident, Gregory Chamitoff, who took Reisman's place.
The next shuttle flight is planned for October, when Atlantis goes to the Hubble Space Telescope.
The next time a shuttle flies to the space station, now three-quarters complete, isn't until November. That's because NASA needs to have a shuttle ready to rush to Atlantis' aid in case of serious damage to its thermal shielding.
Ten shuttle flights are scheduled before the fleet is retired in 2010.