Space Shuttle Endeavour Lands Safely in Florida
Space shuttle Endeavour lands on time at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 21, 2010 at 10:20 pm ET to end the two-week STS-130 mission to the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA TV

This story was updated at 11:16 p.m. ET.

HOUSTON - Space shuttle Endeavour touched down safely in Florida Sunday evening, beating a stormy weather forecast after delivering NASA?s last major additions to the International Space Station (ISS).

Commander George Zamka piloted Endeavour and his five crewmates to a landing at 10:20 p.m. EST (0320 Monday GMT) on NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

?Houston, it is great to be home,? Zamka told Mission Control. ?It was a great adventure.?    

Their return concluded Endeavour's STS-130 mission, which installed the new Node 3 ?Tranquility? module and its adjoining seven-window space observation deck, called the Cupola, on the station. The 14-day mission left the $100 billion space station, now more than 11 years old, about 98 percent complete.

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi put those new station windows to good use during Endeavour's landing. He said he could see the shuttle's bright trail as it re-entered Earth?s atmosphere.

?I watched the shuttle atmospheric re-entry from Cupola window,? Noguchi posted on his Twitter page. He has lived on the station since December. ?The view was definitely out-of-the-world.?

The 217-orbit flight included three spacewalks to configure the new hardware as well as brought aboard the parts necessary to successfully repair the station?s water and urine recycling system. Endeavour flew about 5.7 million miles (9.1 million km) during the spaceflight.

?This is a great mission,? shuttle astronaut Kathryn ?Kay? Hire said Saturday before landing. ?[I] just can?t describe how wonderful it was to look out the Cupola and see that wonderful Node 3 onboard the International Space Station especially as we undocked. We?re just all very excited about how well things have gone.?

A window beyond words

Opened late in the mission, the Cupola?s panoramic space windows ? including the largest single pane of glass ever launched into space ? exceeded the astronauts? imaginations, leaving them without the words to describe the view.

?I wish we could show you that Cupola view because I think all of us are probably going to spend the rest of our days trying to describe what it was like,? said Stephen Robinson, who together with fellow mission specialists Hire, Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick, as well as pilot Terry Virts, returned to Earth with Zamka.

The dome-shaped module is intended as more than just a sightseeing room. During the mission, efforts were made to install a workstation to control the ISS?s robotic arms but hardware interference deferred that activity to after Endeavour departed.

Though the 1.6-ton Cupola received most of the public?s attention during the STS-130 mission, it was dwarfed in both size and importance by Endeavour?s primary payload, the nearly 12-ton Tranquility module. With both additions installed, the space station now weighs nearly 800,000 pounds (362,873 kg).

Named after NASA?s historic Apollo 11 lunar landing site, the station?s new Tranquility module will serve as part gym and part life-support equipment center for the outpost?s crew. The astronauts loaded some of that gym equipment into the new room while they were visiting the station. A treadmill named after TV comedian Stephen Colbert ? who last year staged a campaign to have Tranquility named after him ? will be moved in later.

During an extra day added to their time docked at the station, Endeavour?s crew moved refrigerator-sized equipment racks ? including the station?s urine recycling system and U.S.-built waste containment system (a space toilet) ? from inside other modules into Tranquility. 

Three spacewalks were conducted by Behnken and Patrick to connect the node and Cupola to the station, including running ammonia coolant lines that had to be redesigned before Endeavour launched. The astronauts also moved an old docking adapter to the end of the new Tranquility node to protect its end cap and serve as a spare docking port.

They even had time to stage their own weightless version of the Winter Olympics in space and took a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama.

Four shuttle flights remain

NASA?s STS-130 mission marked the agency?s 32nd space shuttle to visit the International Space Station and the 24th flight for Endeavour itself. It is the first of NASA?s final shuttle missions this year.

NASA currently plans to launch four more shuttle missions to complete the assembly of the station and stock the orbiting laboratory with more supplies.

The next mission, STS-131 is targeted to launch on shuttle Discovery on April 5. The fleet is slated to retire by the end of the year.

A week before Endeavour launched, President Obama unveiled a new 2011 budget request for NASA, which cancelled the Constellation program developing NASA?s new spaceships.

The plan, if approved by Congress, would set aside $6 billion over the next five years to spur development of new commercial spacecraft that could send astronauts to orbit and the space station, freeing NASA to concentrate on more loftier goals of sending astronauts to the moon, asteroids or Mars.

Endeavour?s spaceflight also marked the penultimate flight for the orbiter. The youngest shuttle in NASA?s three-orbiter fleet, Endeavour is scheduled to launch on its final mission, STS-134, in July.