Space shuttle Atlantis lands in Florida

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The Independent US

The space shuttle Atlantis landed in Florida today, capping a 12-day mission to deliver a new module to the International Space Station before Nasa retires the shuttle fleet after two more flights.

Circling high over the Kennedy Space Centre to burn off speed, commander Ken Ham gently nosed the 100-ton ship toward a landing strip three miles away from where he and five crew mates blasted off on May 14 to begin Nasa's 132nd shuttle mission.

Atlantis touched down at 8:48am, completing its 32nd and final flight. The shuttles began flying in 1981 and are being retired due to cost and safety concerns.

Nasa plans to fly each of its remaining shuttles, Discovery and Endeavour, once more this year to complete assembly and outfitting of the space station, a $100bn project of 16 nations that has been under construction for 12 years.

President Barack Obama wants to cancel a follow-on programme to the shuttles to develop rockets and capsules aimed at returning US astronauts to the moon, and instead develop new technologies for travel farther from Earth. The proposal, which is pending before Congress, is controversial.

During a weeklong stay at the station, Ham, pilot Dominic "Tony" Antonelli, spacewalkers Garrett Reisman, Steve Bowen and Michael Good and astronaut Piers Sellers delivered and installed a Russian docking and research laboratory, six huge batteries for the station's solar power system, a spare communications antenna and a work platform for the station's Canadian-built crane.

Before being turned over to a museum, Atlantis will be prepared as an emergency rescue ship for the last shuttle crew.

Nasa is evaluating proposals from museums and science centres wanting to display Atlantis and Endeavour. Discovery, which is scheduled to make its last flight in September, is promised to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Endeavour, which will carry the $2bn Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector to the station, is scheduled to be the programme's finale in November.