Touchdown: Discovery comes home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) - Discovery and its crew of seven glided safely back to Earth on Tuesday, ending a riveting, at times agonizing, 14-day test of space shuttle safety that was shadowed by the ghosts of Columbia.

Discovery swooped through the darkness of the Mojave Desert and landed on the Edwards runway at 8:11 a.m. eastern time, well before sunrise. It marked the conclusion of the first shuttle re-entry since Columbia's tragic return.

The detour to California came after thunderstorms in Cape Canaveral, Fla., prevented the shuttle from returning to its home base.

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''Congratulations on a truly spectacular test flight,'' Mission Control said once Discovery came to a stop. ''Welcome home, friends.''

''We're happy to be back and we congratulate the whole team for a job well done,'' Commander Eileen Collins replied.

The inherently dangerous ride down through the atmosphere appeared to go smoothly. No problems were immediately reported by Mission Control.

Held up a day by bad weather in Florida, the shuttle soared across the Pacific and over Southern California, passing just north of Los Angeles on its way to Edwards. NASA adjusted the flight path in order to skirt Los Angeles because of new public safety considerations in the wake of the Columbia disaster, which rained debris onto Texas and Louisiana.

Discovery's journey, which began with a liftoff on July 26, spanned 219 orbits of Earth and 5.8 million miles.

''I hope this shows people that we're coming back,'' NASA spaceflight chief Bill Readdy said from Cape Canaveral following touchdown. ''We've got some more work to do. We know what we need to do and we'll do it.''

The switch to the opposite coast was a big disappointment for the astronauts' families, who had been waiting to greet their loved ones in Cape Canaveral. Their reunion was put on hold until Wednesday, when they all planned to meet in Houston.

NASA's top officials also had gathered at Cape Canaveral to welcome the crew home.