CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan and her fellow crewmates are glad to be home after the successful Tuesday landing of their space shuttle Endeavour.
"The flight was absolutely wonderful," Morgan, a former Idaho schoolteacher, told reporters as she readapted to the constant tug of Earth's gravity. "The room still spins a little bit, but that's okay."
Morgan and her six STS-118 crewmates landed at 12:32:16 p.m. EDT (1632:16 GMT) here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to end a successful 13-day flight to the International Space Station (ISS).
"It was a great experience," shuttle commander Scott Kelly told reporters, adding that the station's three-man Expedition 15 crew contributed to their flight's success. "The space station is really a wonderful place and it continues to get bigger and have a greater capability to do science."
Endeavour's STS-118 crew spent nine days at the ISS, where the astronauts delivered more than two tons of cargo, replaced a broken U.S. gyroscope and installed a spare parts platform and $11 million starboard-side addition to the orbital laboratory's backbone-like truss.
Shuttle pilot Charlie Hobaugh and mission specialists Tracy Caldwell, Rick Mastracchio, Alvin Drew, Jr. and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dave Williams also returned to Earth aboard the shuttle.
"It's truly the ride of a lifetime," Williams said of launching aboard Endeavour, adding that the views of Earth and the moon during his STS-118 spacewalks will stay with him. "These are moments that you truly take away with you."
At no point were they worried about a small, deep divot in their orbiter's tile-covered underbelly, the shuttle astronauts said. The 3 1/2-inch by 2-inch (9-centimeter by 5-centimeter) gouge was caused by foam debris shed by Endeavour's tank during its Aug. 8 launch, but posed no risk to the safe return of the orbiter or its crew.
"I was a little bit underwhelmed by the size of the gouge," Kelly said after he and his crew inspected their spacecraft. "To see it, it looked rather small."
For Morgan, Endeavour's STS-118 mission capped a 22-year effort to reach space. NASA first selected the McCall, Idaho, elementary schoolteacher to serve as the backup to Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe, who later died with six astronauts during the agency's ill-fated Challenger shuttle in 1986.
NASA recalled Morgan from her teaching post in 1998 to train as a professional astronaut. She was assigned to Endeavour's STS-118 flight in 2002.
"The blackness of space, I've never seen anything that black," Morgan said. "It was like obsidian, only blacker."
During her spaceflight, Morgan recorded video for educational sessions, answered questions from students on Earth and hauled about 10 million cinnamon basil seeds to space and back as part of a NASA student outreach project.?
"I'm really proud with what we did," Morgan said, adding that NASA has set up a ground-based education program for students in lieu of a lesson from space. "We're going to give them these seeds and let them experiment, explore and do whatever they want with them and get them to have the kinds of experiences that we have."
Morgan added that participating in the construction of the space station, and NASA's vision to return astronauts to the moon, is both gratifying and inspiring.
"You know, there's a great sense of pride to be able to be involved in a human endeavor that takes us all a little bit farther," Morgan said. "When you look down and see our Earth?and you realize what we are trying to do as a human race, it's pretty profound."
- VIDEO: STS-118: Coming Home
- VIDEO: Teaching the Future: Teacher-Astronaut Barbara Morgan
- Complete Space Shuttle Mission