Atlantis and its seven astronauts swooped to a predawn landing at the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday, wrapping up a mission to prepare the initial living quarters of the International Space Station for its first residents.
Commander Terry Wilcutt guided Atlantis to a landing at 2:56 a.m. Central time, wrapping up a 4.9 million mile mission in which more than three tons of equipment were delivered to the international outpost. Wilcutt and his crewmates, Pilot Scott Altman and Mission Specialists Ed Lu, Rick Mastracchio, Dan Burbank, Yuri Malenchenko and Boris Morukov completed the 23rd consecutive landing of a shuttle at the Florida spaceport, and the 30th landing of a shuttle at the Cape in the last 31 flights.
During their 12-day flight, the astronauts spent a week docked to the International Space Station during which they worked as movers, cleaners, plumbers, electricians and cable installers. In all, they spent 7 days, 21 hours and 54 minutes docked to the International Space Station, outfitting the new Zvezda module for the arrival of the Expedition One crew later this fall.
Atlantis’ landing came just two weeks before the launch of Discovery on the next assembly flight to the station, the STS-92 mission, scheduled for liftoff around October 5. Seven astronauts will install a large truss structure to the Unity node of the Station, housing motion control gear and communications equipment. The so-called Z1 truss will also serve as the mounting platform for the large U.S. solar arrays for the station which will be delivered late this year.
The STS-106 crew is scheduled to return to Houston and a welcome home at Ellington Field about 2 p.m. Thursday.
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