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Discovery home for the holidays

Story Highlights

• NEW: Shuttle lands in Florida at 5:32 p.m. ET Friday
• Discovery commander: 'You've got seven thrilled people here'
• Shuttle needed to land by Saturday or run out of fuel that supplies its electricity
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- Not even a dreary forecast could keep the space shuttle Discovery from coming home for the holidays. The orbiter touched down at Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 5:32 p.m. ET Friday, completing a 13-day mission that included four spacewalks and installation of a 2-ton addition to the international space station.

Commander Mark Polansky landed the shuttle just as the sun was setting.

"You've got seven thrilled people here," Polansky told Mission Control after bringing the shuttle to a stop on Runway 15. (Watch the sunset landing Video)

Earlier Friday, Mission Control scrubbed the first landing opportunity at Kennedy because of rain and clouds, but got lucky on a second go-round.

Mission Control astronaut Ken Ham told the crew he felt confident the weather would cooperate for a sunset landing in Florida.

"You are a good man," Polansky replied.

At 4:26 p.m. ET, Polansky fired Discovery's engines for the de-orbit burn.

Landing sites

The space agency had seven opportunities Friday to land at either Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert, and at White Sands, New Mexico.

Discovery needed to be on the ground Saturday or run out of the fuel that powers its electrical system.

The mission was initially supposed to last 12 days, but it was extended to allow an unplanned spacewalk to retract solar arrays that had folded improperly.

Discovery lifted off December 9, the first night launch since the 2003 Columbia tragedy, when foam shedding from an external fuel tank during launch damaged the orbiter, leading to a catastrophic failure when the spacecraft re-entered Earth's atmosphere.

In the wake of the disaster, NASA installed new cameras to watch for debris and foam strikes during launches. However, because some of those cameras were of limited use during a night launch, NASA added radar systems to monitor the launch for debris. Inspections and analysis of Discovery's liftoff, however, showed no problems.

During the mission, Discovery docked with the space station, and its crew continued construction of the outpost during the first of four spacewalks. The other two spacewalks rewired the station's power system for a permanent setup. The fourth spacewalk was added to allow Discovery crew members to retract the solar arrays.

Discovery also delivered a new space station crew member -- Sunita "Suni" Williams -- and more than 2 tons of equipment and supplies, as well as returning nearly 2 tons of items no longer needed on the station to Earth, NASA said.

CNN's Kate Tobin contributed to this report.


Discovery landed safely at 5:32 p.m. ET at Kennedy Space Center on Friday, bringing the mission to the space station to an end.



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