Atlantis' astronauts glided to a ghostly pre-dawn landing this morning at the Kennedy Space Center to wrap up a successful refurbishment and resupply mission to the International Space Station.
Commander Jim Halsell flew Atlantis to a nighttime touchdown at the Florida spaceport at 1:20 a.m. Central time to complete a 4,076,000 mile mission, the second Shuttle flight of the year. It was the 14th nighttime landing in Shuttle history and the 22nd consecutive mission to end with a landing at KSC. Halsell was joined on Atlantis' flight deck by Pilot Scott Horowitz, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams and Mission Specialist Mary Ellen Weber. Crewmates Susan Helms, Jim Voss and Yury Usachev were seated down on the orbiter's middeck for entry and landing.
Atlantis returned to Earth after Flight Director John Shannon determined that crosswinds at the Kennedy Space Center's three-mile long landing strip were gentle and steady, enabling him to give the astronauts the green light to come home on time. Halsell fired the Shuttle's braking rockets at 12:12 a.m. Central time, allowing Atlantis to drop out of orbit for its high-speed descent. Atlantis passed over southern Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico before crossing over the Sarasota / Ft. Myers area of Florida en route to the Cape. Atlantis broke the quiet of the pre-dawn hours in Central Florida with a double sonic boom just minutes before touchdown, heralding its arrival at the landing site as it went subsonic.
Left in orbit is the renovated International Space Station, equipped with an upgraded electrical system, new fans, filters, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and communications gear. ISS flight controllers report that the complex is functioning in excellent condition. The Station is orbiting at an altitude of about 238 statute miles, awaiting the arrival of its next component, the Russian Service Module "Zvezda", which is scheduled to be launched on a modified Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in July. The ISS will automatically rendezvous and dock with "Zvezda" about two weeks after the new module is placed in orbit.
Atlantis will now be processed for the next Shuttle flight in early September to return to the International Space Station with another crew for the outfitting and supply of the newly arrived Service Module. That flight, STS-106, will be led by veteran Commander Terry Wilcutt.
The STS-101 astronauts will spend Memorial Day relaxing with their families in Florida before returning to Houston Tuesday afternoon at around 1:30 p.m. Central time for a welcoming ceremony at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center. JSC employees and families are invited to attend the ceremony. Further information can be obtained by calling the JSC newsroom after 8 a.m. on Tuesday at 281-483-5111.
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