Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 20, 2010

12:30 pm: Space shuttle returns to Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Shuttle Discovery and its astronauts returned safely to Earth on Tuesday after making a rare flyover of America’s heartland to wrap up their 15-day, 6 million-mile journey to the International Space Station.

The touchdown was delayed by rain and fog that dissipated as the sun rose, allowing Mission Control to take advantage of the morning’s second landing opportunity.

Shuttle commander Alan Poindexter held a small U.S. flag as he stood in front of Discovery, two hours later, and described the “beautiful entry.”

“We got the bonus of coming over the entire United States, and it was just absolutely gorgeous,” said Poindexter, flanked by his six crewmates. “The entire entry track took us over the Rockies and over the Midwest and across the Mississippi Delta. It was just a fantastic entry.”

Discovery swooped through a hazy sky before landing a day late because of rain.

“Welcome home,” Mission Control said, radioing congratulations.

“It was a great mission. We enjoyed it,” Poindexter said. “And we’re glad that the International Space Station is stocked up again.”

For days, NASA had promised a spectacular show, weather permitting, for early risers along Discovery’s flight path.

With the space shuttle program winding down, there weren’t expected to be any more continental flyovers.

This was, in fact, Discovery’s next-to-last flight. Only one more mission remains for NASA’s oldest surviving shuttle. As soon as it’s removed from the runway, it will be prepped for the final shuttle flight, scheduled for September.

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