Mission Complete: Endeavour Astros Receive Sushi Welcome

Perfect landing caps space station makeover

The return to earth of space shuttle Endeavor went just the way NASA likes its missions - smooth, uneventful and swamped with sushi. 

With seven astronauts aboard, the shuttle touched down at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., right on time, its wheels hitting terra firma at exactly 10:48 a.m. eastern time. The landing capped a 16-day, 6.5-million-mile journey to the International Space Station.

"Welcome home!" NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter radioed Endeavour's crew from Mission Control in Houston. "Congratulations on a superb mission from beginning to end. Very well done."

The mission saw the crew put on a new addition to Japan's $1 billion lab, install fresh batteries and stock the station with spare parts. Together with the six station residents, the crew helped comprise the biggest gathering ever in space.

The crew also brought up a sub, American Timothy Kopra, for Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who had been in the station for 138 days. Wakata said before his return trip that he couldn't wait to eat sushi and a soak in a hot spring.

Four hours after the shuttle landed, Wakata said he had yet to dive into the sushi that awaited him because of medical tests. But he couldn't wait to try it. At the top of his list, though, was seeing his wife and son.

The shuttle astronauts carried out five spacewalks -- tying a record for a single flight -- and helped their station colleagues when a toilet flooded and an air purifier overheated. The commode, one of three on the linked shuttle and station, was fixed in a day. But the air-cleansing system is out of order.

Japan's Kibo lab -- which means Hope -- got a front porch for outdoor experiments during Endeavour's visit. An X-ray telescope and space environment monitor were installed on the porch, along with communication equipment.

As for NASA, seven shuttle flights remain to finish the space station. The next launch, by Discovery, is targeted for the end of August.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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