Space Shuttle Discovery Commander Eileen Collins staged a flawless nighttime touchdown at California’s Edwards Air Force Base at 5:11 a.m. Tuesday, bringing to a dramatic finish a 219-orbit, 5.8-million-mile, 14-day trip – whose landing had been diverted due to bad weather at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
During the descent, Collins took controls of the shuttle, flying it upside down and backwards as it glided back to Earth.
“Discovery is home,” Mission Control said as the wheels touched down. NASA personnel broke out in cheers as Collins announced: “We are back.”
“Congratulations on a truly spectacular test flight,” astronaut Ken Ham told the seven-man crew by radio from Mission Control after the shuttle came to a halt in the Mojave Desert. “Welcome home, friends.”
“Those are great words to hear,” replied Collins. “We’re happy to be back. We congratulate the whole team for a job well done.”
At a press conference that followed the landing, Collins – a veteran of three previous flights – sought public support to continue the space-shuttle program, which has sputtered since Discovery’s sister ship Columbia exploded over Texas in February 2003.
“The Columbia crew believed in their mission, and we are continuing their mission … exploring space and making life on Earth better for all of us,” she said.