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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Space shuttle Endeavour glides to Earth, several tons lighter

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STS-130 touchdownThe STS-130 mission came to an uneventful close Sunday night in Florida when space shuttle Endeavour landed safely at Kennedy Space Center. The orbiter touched down at 10:20 P.M. after a two-week trip to the International Space Station (ISS).


Endeavour delivered to the station more than 15 metric tons of components, including a major cylindrical module known as Tranquility and an accompanying cupola, a seven-window observation port that allows panoramic views of the station and of Earth. Tranquility is a pressurized node that houses life-support and exercise equipment to serve the fully staffed ISS; in 2009 the station's crew grew from three to six.


From the space station, which received Internet access in January, ISS flight engineer Soichi Noguchi frequently posted pictures of the unfolding mission to his Astro_Soichi Twitter account. After Endeavour spacewalkers removed the covers from the cupola's windows, Noguchi beamed down a photo of the Sahara Desert taken from the cupola; as the shuttle descended toward Earth, he posted a picture of the orbiter streaking through the atmosphere.


The STS-130 crew comprised commander George Zamka, pilot Terry Virts, and mission specialists Kathryn Hire, Stephen Robinson, Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken. Now that the mission is in the books, only four space shuttle launches remain before the program shuts down later this year or early in 2011. The next launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than April 5.


Photo: NASA

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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