Space Shuttle Discovery has returned to earth from a "resoundingly successful" 13-day mission after dropping off Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams at her new home amid the stars.
The shuttle with its six crew and a new passenger on board, German astronaut Thomas Reiter, whom Williams replaced at the International Space Station, touched down at Kennedy Space Centre at 4.02 am IST on Saturday.
"It's a little bit windy and a little bit rainy. And we just want to go ahead and thank everybody for helping get us back to Kennedy Space Centre. Discovery is a beautiful vehicle," said Commander Mark Polansky before the crew departed the Shuttle Landing Facility.
"This mission is really a demonstration of how well we can work as a team at NASA when the ground folks, and the contractors, the crew, the flight directors, the control teams when everybody works together toward a common goal."
At a post-landing news conference, NASA officials also expressed their satisfaction with a "resoundingly successful mission" to rewire the space station and retract a stubborn solar array.
"On behalf of the crew at the Kennedy Space Centre, Christmas came three days early for us," agreed Launch Director Mike Leinbach. "It is great to have Discovery out on our runway. The team is just jubilant."
Before setting foot on the runway, each crewmember underwent a brief medical exam inside the Crew Hatch Access Vehicle. After receiving an OK by doctors, Polansky and his team were greeted by NASA officials, including Administrator Michael Griffin, before taking a walk around Discovery to inspect the spacecraft.
Discovery was launched on December 9 and arrived at the space station two days later. The crew installed the Port 5 spacer truss segment during the first of four spacewalks. Spacewalkers, including Williams, rewired the station's power system during the second and third spacewalks, leaving it in a permanent setup.
A fourth spacewalk was added to allow the crew to retract solar arrays that had folded improperly.
Discovery also delivered more than two tonnes of equipment and supplies to the station, most of which were located in the SPACEHAB cargo module. Almost two tonnes of items no longer needed on the station returned to earth with Discovery.
The crew spent almost 13 days in space and travelled 5.3 million statute miles. The mission was the 117th space shuttle flight and 33rd by Discovery. It also was the 20th shuttle mission to visit the space station.