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Shuttle brings home record-setting astronauts

Shuttle Endeavour makes a rare landing in the California desert
Shuttle Endeavour makes a rare landing in the California desert  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- After two days of weather delays, the space shuttle Endeavour touched down at a backup landing site, returning with a pair of astronauts who have broken the United States space endurance record.

With storm clouds lingering over NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week, the space agency decided to bring Endeavour home on the runway at the Edwards Air Force Base in California, where dry and clear weather conditions prevailed on Wednesday.

NASA spends an additional $1 million to land a shuttle in California, which then must be transported back to Florida for processing.

But Endeavour had supplies and fuel to last only one more day in orbit -- too close for comfort for mission managers -- so they decided Wednesday to use the backup site. The last time a shuttle landed at the Mojave Desert military base was in May 2001.

Endeavour mission guide  has crew bios, a mission timeline and more.
Space shuttle Endeavour crew members take the first of three planned space walks (June 9)

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Watch a NASA animation of a space walk

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"It was just not meant to be. There will be no Florida homecoming for Endeavour," Mission Control said.

During this two-week mission, shuttle crew members conducted three spacewalks outside the international space station. The most difficult one took place Thursday when they performed something akin to wrist surgery on the station's mobile 58-foot robotic arm.

Numerous space milestones were passed during the shuttle's 5.8 million-mile journey. One of the astronauts, Philippe Perrin of France, was the first spacewalker from a European Union country. His spacewalking partner, NASA's Franklin Chang-Diaz, took a record-tying seventh flight into orbit.

Endeavour delivered three new residents to the space station and has returned with the previous tenants, who spent their 196th day in space on Wednesday.

The two returning Americans, Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz, broke the U.S. endurance mark for time in space by exceeding the 188 days spent by Shannon Lucid on the Russian space station Mir.

Russian cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov holds the world space endurance record of 438 days.

The next shuttle mission is set for July 19. The shuttle Columbia is scheduled to go on another construction mission to the unfinished space station.

Endeavour is slated to return to space on October 6, but NASA managers concede they will have to work fast to make sure the orbiter is ready in time.



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