Space shuttle Discovery landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, ending a successful 13-day mission to rewire the International Space Station.
The shuttle made a fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and a long glide to touchdown at the seaside landing strip shortly after 5.30 pm EST (2230 GMT), bringing home a seven-member crew that included Germany's Thomas Reiter, who had spent the past six months at the space station.
Discovery dropped a new crew member, rookie US astronaut Sunita Williams, at the orbiting outpost for a six-month stint in space.
NASA caught a break with the weather in Florida after wrestling with difficult conditions at the Kennedy Space Center and at the backup landing site, Edwards Air Force Base in California. Officials even considered landing Discovery at a rarely used landing site in New Mexico.
Shuttle managers skipped a first opportunity to land in Florida before deciding the weather had cleared enough for a safe touchdown on their second chance.
Despite wrestling with a balky solar panel, Discovery's crew accomplished the main goals of the mission, which began on December 9 with a launch from Florida.
The astronauts smoothly installed an $11 million, 2-ton truss segment on the space station's backbone and put in a new electrical system so laboratories built by Europe and Japan can be added to the station in the future.
It was the retraction of an old solar array that tripped up the mission.
Astronauts and ground controllers struggled to fold up the troublesome 110-foot (33-metre) wing on several occasions before NASA managers decided to add an unplanned spacewalk so the astronauts could shake out the kinks in the panel.
The added spacewalk forced the crew to spend an extra day in space, delaying Discovery's homecoming from Thursday to Friday.
NASA plans at least 13 more missions to complete the half-built, $100 billion space station before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.