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Discovery returns to Earth

After nearly 13 days in orbit, a successful shuttle mission ends at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Discovery landing
The space shuttle Discovery lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after 13 days in space.
NASA
"Welcome back, Discovery, and congratulations on a great mission."

With these words, mission control greeted Discovery's astronauts as the crew landed at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 9:14 A.M. EST today. Overcast skies and potential for rain forced mission control to delay the decision to land at the space center just 10 minutes before the shuttle was to fire its engines.

Once on the ground, the six-person crew strolled around Discovery, checking for damage. NASA officials remarked how little harm the orbiter experienced, compared to previous shuttle flights.

During STS-121, the crew delivered supplies and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS) and exercised three spacewalks that included repairing the space station's mobile transporter and practicing tile-repair techniques on Discovery. During the repair demonstration, mission specialist Piers Sellers positioned himself on the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm. The arm was controlled by crew members inside the shuttle.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, the shuttle's seventh crew member, remained aboard ISS as a member of the Expedition 13 crew.

After spending time with their families and undergoing physical examinations, Discovery's astronauts will return to Johnson Space Center in Texas.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin would not say whether the success of this flight would lead to a Hubble-repair mission.

"No one wants a Hubble flight more than I, but we won't get ahead of ourselves," said Griffin.

He did say decisions about future missions would be made after STS-121 data is evaluated. The next shuttle mission, aboard Atlantis, is scheduled for late August.
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