Space shuttle Endeavour lands safely in Florida

By New Scientist Space and Reuters (Image: NASA TV) Space shuttle Endeavour safely returned to Earth on Tuesday after a flight to the International Space Station that was cut short by Hurricane Dean and marred by a debris problem at launch. The shuttle landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1232 EDT (1732 BST). NASA had planned to land Endeavour on Wednesday, but decided to bring it back a day early out of concern that Hurricane Dean, then roaring through the Caribbean Sea, could turn toward Texas and disrupt operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Category Five storm neared Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Monday with 256 kilometre per hour (160 mile per hour) winds. But it did not affect the shuttle’s landing. The shuttle came home with a small gash in its belly caused by a chunk of insulation foam that flew off the fuel tank when Endeavour launched on 8 August. NASA decided the 8-centimetre (3-inch) gouge would not endanger the ship during its fiery return to Earth and did not need repair. But space shuttle programme director Wayne Hale said NASA would once again have to look at the foam-strike problem that caused the Columbia disaster in 2003. The space agency has made changes to reduce foam loss, but he said it will never be completely eliminated because of inherent design problems in the ageing shuttles. “We will never have a launch with zero risk,” Hale said. The shuttle Columbia broke apart before landing because of wing heat shield damage caused by a foam strike as it launched. The seven astronauts on board were killed. The shuttle programme was grounded for more than two years while NASA reviewed and revised its safety procedures. On 10 August, Endeavour arrived at the space station. Its astronauts then installed a 2-tonne metal beam on the $100-billion outpost, which is now 60% complete. The agency hopes to finish the 15-nation project before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010. The space shuttle – learn more in our continuously updated special report. More on these topics:
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