NASA rejoiced at a successful nighttime landing that capped what the space agency called an exceptionally long—and successful—mission to the International Space Station.
Endeavour's touchdown Wednesday night on NASA's illuminated runway wrapped up a voyage that lasted 16 days and spanned 6.5 million miles (10.5 million kilometers). Mission Control immediately offered up its congratulations.
"It was a super-rewarding mission," said shuttle commander Dominic Gorie, "exciting from the start to the ending."
NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, watched with pleasure from the landing strip as Europe's new space station supply ship and then the International Space Station soared overhead, resembling a pair of twinkling stars.
Moments later, Endeavour landed, an hour after sunset.
"I can't think of a better day, or the better ending of a day, than to see those three wonderful pieces of hardware," Gersteinmaier said.
Endeavour's homecoming was a bit delayed.
The space shuttle was supposed to land before sunset, but at virtually the last minute, clouds moved in.
As the astronauts took an extra swing around the planet, the sky cleared enough to satisfy flight controllers.
After asking Gorie for his opinion, Mission Control gave him the green light to head home.
It was only the 22nd space shuttle landing in darkness. Less than one-fifth of all missions have ended at nighttime; the last one was in 2006.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES