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Discovery returns home

Crew completes 5.3-million-mile trip

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Kennedy Space Center
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Space Exploration

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- The space shuttle Discovery wrapped up its 13-day, 5.3-million-mile mission on Monday with a picture-perfect landing at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

The shuttle and its six-member crew glided through overcast skies before touching down at 9:14 a.m. ET. (Watch the landing -- 1:45)

"It was a great mission," shuttle commander Steve Lindsey said after Discovery rolled to a stop.

The crew then changed out of their orange flight and re-entry suits and went through medical tests before leaving to inspect Discovery.

The four men and two women smiled and pointed as they walked around under the shuttle's belly, pausing occasionally to shake hands with NASA officials.

"I've never seen a vehicle that was as clean as this one is," said Lindsey, a veteran of four shuttle flights.

"We're going to go see our families now," he said.

Officials were concerned about rain showers and clouds north of the landing site and did not make the decision to land until about 10 minutes before Discovery was scheduled to fire its engines and begin its return to Earth.

They also decided to use a different runway because of a last-minute change in the weather.

The shuttle streaked through the atmosphere at more than 24 times the speed of sound and conducted a series of S-shaped, banked, turns to slow down to a safe landing speed.

It approached the runway from the south, flying over the Pacific Ocean, Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Florida, before reaching the runway.

Monday's landing comes after a successful 13-day mission to the international space station where the Discovery astronauts delivered supplies and dropped off German astronaut Thomas Reiter at the station.

They also performed three spacewalks to perform maintenance on the station's mobile transporter and to test shuttle tile repair techniques.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin said Discovery's mission was "enormously successful."

"We're back on track," Griffin said, adding that NASA still has to finish building half of the space station.

NASA has an ambitious flight schedule planned to complete the station before the shuttle is retired at the end of 2010.

Space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch in late August carrying a solar array, batteries and a truss segment of the station.

NASA ordered several inspections of Discovery to make sure that there was no damage to the network of thermal tiles that protects the orbiter from the intense heat of re-entry.

At least five pieces of foam fell off of the shuttle during its July Fourth launch, but shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said they were not a concern.

Foam shedding has been a problem for NASA, beginning with the loss of the shuttle Columbia in 2003, when foam hit a wing, causing the shuttle to disintegrate on re-entry, killing all seven astronauts. (Full story)

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