'Endeavour' touches down safely in Florida after its final trip to space

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The Independent Online

The space shuttle Endeavour touched down at its Florida home base early yesterday, capping a 16-day mission to deliver a science experiment to the International Space Station on Nasa's penultimate shuttle flight.

Sailing through night skies, the shuttle and its six-man crew glided toward the Kennedy Space Centre, circling high overhead to burn off speed and setting off a pair of sonic booms, heralding the ship's homecoming. Commander Scott Kelly, a four-time shuttle veteran, gently eased the 100-tonne spaceship onto the runway to complete Endeavour's 25th and final flight.

Endeavour racked up 123 million miles in 25 spaceflights. It will now be prepared to be put on display at the California Science Centre in Los Angeles. Nasa's attention shifts to sister ship Atlantis, which was rolled out to the shuttle's launch pad as Endeavour headed back to Earth. Atlantis is set to launch on July 8 on Nasa's final planned shuttle mission, a supply run to the space station.

The US is retiring its three-ship fleet due to high operating costs and to free up funds to develop new spacecraft that can travel beyond the space station's 220-mile-high orbit.

The space shuttle Discovery returned from its final voyage in March. It will be at least four years before Nasa astronauts can fly out of the US again.