NASA: Despite run of tough luck, shuttle lands safely

After 5 failed launch attempts and a failed thruster, Endeavour ends 16-day mission

After a grueling and technically intensive 16-day mission in space, the seven-person crew of the space shuttle Endeavour safely touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this morning.

The shuttle landed as scheduled at 10:48 a.m. ET. It was a picture-perfect landing for a shuttle that had a tough time getting off the ground due to a gaseous hydrogen leak that scuttled two scheduled launches and bad weather that derailed three other attempts.

The shuttle finally blasted off on July 15 - its sixth launch attempt.

Yesterday, mission control specialists found that one of Endeavour's forward thrusters, which control altitude and speed upon re-entry, failed during a test of control systems. As shown today, NASA had reported that the shuttle could land safely without the thruster.

Returning from orbit, the shuttle and its crew left behind a new porch for the Japanese laboratory on the International Space Station, new batteries installed to store power collected from the station's solar arrays and several replacement parts to keep on hand. This morning, the shuttle also released what NASA described as two pairs of small research satellites.

The satellites, which had been stored in canisters in the shuttle's payload bay, were both designed and built by students at the University of Texas, Austin, and Texas A&M University. One pair is designed to use GPS data to monitor the rendezvous of orbiting spacecraft. The other pair is designed to measure the density and composition of the rarified atmosphere 200 miles above the Earth's surface, according to NASA.

This was the 127th shuttle mission for NASA and the 23rd for Endeavour, NASA reported today. It also was the 29th shuttle mission to the space station.

The next shuttle mission is scheduled to launch on Aug. 18, when the Discovery is expected to deliver 33,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the space station.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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