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Sunita back
At last, Atlantis lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California

Houston, June 22
Space shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Edwards Air Force Base in California today bringing Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams back to earth after a record stay in space.

The spacecraft touched down at 1.19 a.m. on Saturday.

Sunita returned home after a record breaking 195-day space odyssey by a woman. She had set off from Cape Canaveral on December 9 last year on space shuttle Discovery.

Williams became the world’s most experienced woman walker in space on February 4 with four excursions clocking over 29 hours and 17 minutes to top Kathy Thornton’s space walking record.

Mission managers had to divert Atlantis to Edwards in the Mojave Desert as poor weather at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral forced mission managers to skip three landing attempts there over the past 24 hours.

The spacecraft began its fiery descent to earth with Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Lee Archambault firing the space shuttle’s engines at 0113 IST. The de-orbit burn slows down the shuttle for its return through Earth’s atmosphere.

Williams was riding back to Earth lying on her back to ease the transition back to gravity as she had lived in the weightless conditions aboard the International Space Station since December.

As Atlantis crossed the Pacific and glided over the runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California, several people recalled the tragic memories of the Columbia disaster of 2003, in which India-born Kalpana Chawla and six others perished.

During its 13-day mission, Atlantis delivered a truss segment for the international space station and a replacement for Williams. Atlantis also delivered a new station crew member, Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson who replaced Williams.

During their stay, the Atlantis crew worked on the on-orbit construction of the station with the installation of the Starboard 3 and 4 truss segment. The crew installed the truss on Monday last and conducted four spacewalks to activate the it and assist in the retraction of solar array.

Earlier on Tuesday, the crew overcame a computer-meltdown and repaired the heat shield of the shuttle, before undocking from the space station.

Meanwhile, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif: astronaut Tony Antonelli radioed the message "Welcome back. Congratulations on a great mission," to Atlantis commander Frederick Sturckow from Mission Control in Houston as the spacecraft's rear wheels touched down, sending up a plume of brownish gray desert dust. — PTI, Reuters

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