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Shuttle cleared to land after 16 days in orbit

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-12-01

Astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour packed equipment and tested landing systems on Saturday before a scheduled Sunday homecoming at Florida's Kennedy Space Centre.

 
The space shuttle Endeavour has been cleared for reentry to Earth Sunday, but uncertain weather conditions in Florida may force it to land in California, NASA officials said Saturday.
  
"Endeavour looks to me and to the experts in fact to be as clean or even cleaner than any vehicule we have flown," NASA Mission Management Team chairman LeRoy Cain told a press conference.
  
Before the Endeavour undocked Saturday from the International Space Station (ISS), a final inspection of its nose cap and wing leading edge panels was conducted Wednesday.
  
Cain said that after completing the damage assessment, his team had cleared Endeavour's thermal shield for a safe entry and landing.
  
Flight director Brian Lunney at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, said the flight control system "checked out, no anomalies ... That system is ready to support entry."
  
Endeavour is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday but a cold front with possible thunderstorms and high crosswinds could divert the landing to Edwards Air Force Base, in California's Mojave Desert.
  
The Edwards landing would be a backup option for as early as Sunday, Lunney said.
  
He said Endeavour had two landing attempts at KFC on Sunday, at 1819 GMT and 1954 GMT, with a third window at Edwards at 2125 GMT.
  
"We will be willing to go land on Sunday at Edwards if we look at the forecast and determine Monday is not worth waiting for in terms of going to KSC," he added.
  
The weather forecast for Monday at Cape Canaveral was not looking good.
  
The shuttle must be back on earth by Tuesday since its oxygen supply and battery power will be running low by then.
  
If Endeavour returns as scheduled on Sunday, it will have spent 16 days in orbit, 12 of which docked at the ISS.
  
During their mission Endeavour astronauts took four space walks to successfully repair a jammed joint of one of three rotating solar panels that harvest energy for the orbiting ISS.
  
They also delivered two new sleeping quarters, two ovens and a refrigerator that double the living space on the ISS to allow its crew to increase from three to six.
  
The Endeavour mission is the last by a US space shuttle in 2008. The next shuttle flight is scheduled for February, with another mission to continue building the space station.
  
The ISS should be finished in 2010, also the target date for the retirement of the US fleet of three space shuttles.
  

Date created : 2008-11-30

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