Beating the weather, Shuttle makes rare night landing

 @ibtimes
on February 22 2010 6:28 AM

After over 200 orbits around the Earth, Space shuttle Endeavour landed safely in Florida on Sunday, ending a 14-day mission to the International Space Station.

Endeavour glided onto the runway at the Kennedy Space Center at 10:20 p.m. EST (0320 GMT), after double-sonic booms signaled the spaceship had dropped beneath the sound barrier for first time since its predawn blastoff on Feb. 8.

Welcome home, astronaut Rick Sturckow radioed to Zamka from Mission Control in Houston. Congratulations to you and the crew on an outstanding mission.

NASA pressed ahead with the Sunday night landing even though poor weather on both coasts threatened any touchdown attempt. Unusually, rain clouds were expected at both Edwards AirForce base in California, and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The return marked just the 23rd time the space shuttle has landed at night, out of 130 flights.

During their mission the six astronauts delivered and installed a new space station room, Tranquility, and a big bay window onto the ISS.

The successful installation marked a virtual end to of the construction to the 11-year old orbiting outpost.

NASA plans to deliver the remaining experimental instruments, spare parts and supplies this April via the Discovery shuttle.

Endeavor will have its final flight in July as the Obama administration has decided to cancel a planned follow-on program intended to return U.S. astronauts to the moon, due to cost concerns

Instead the US plans to develop technology for eventual human travel to Mars, and also ramp up space mission from the private sector.

 With the shuttles' retirement, only the Russian and Chinese governments will have the ability to put people into orbit.

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