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Touchdown! Atlantis lands safely in California
Suman Guha Mozumder | June 22, 2007 17:22 IST
Last Updated: June 23, 2007 02:24 IST
Space shuttle [Images] Atlantis, carrying Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams and six others, landed successfully at Edwards Air Force Base in California early Saturday morning.
As the shuttle touched down, the family and friends of all the seven astronauts, including Sunita breathed a sigh of relief for their safe return.
Sunita Williams rode back to earth lying on her back to ease the transition back to gravity as she has lived in the weightless conditions aboard the International Space Station [Images] since December 10 last, creating the record of longest stay in space for a woman astronaut, spending 195 days in space.
"It is great and wonderful to see all of them come back home safely," Dr Deepak Pandya, Suni's father, told rediff.com after the landing.
"We all are holding are breadth today," Pandya earlier said from New Jersey, alluding not just to his wife Bonnie and daughter Dina who were waiting in Houston for Suni to come back, but also to his nephews, one of whom has just come from India to watch the landing.
Obviously, there were concerns among family members before the safe landing of Atlantis given the 2003 Columbia disaster in which the first Indian American astronaut Kalpana Chawala perished along with fellow astronauts while the shuttle carrying them back from space reentered the earth's atmosphere.
More than half an hour after the Atlantis touched down, none of the astronauts had come out of the vehicle as the Mission Control were busy completing various procedures.
Thunderstorms within 55 kilometres and clouds within 8,000 feet of the landing strip at Kennedy Space Centre forced mission managers to skip both the landing opportunities at 2220 IST for a 2325 IST touchdown and at 2355 IST, for a 0100 IST landing in Florida [Images] on Thursday night.
The landing brought an end to a successful construction mission to the International Space Station.
Launched on June eight, Atlantis arrived at the station on June 10.
While at the orbital outpost, the crew installed the Starboard 3 and 4 truss segment and conducted four spacewalks to activate it.
During the third spacewalk, the crew repaired an out of position thermal blanket on the left orbital maneuvering system pod.
Atlantis also delivered a new station crew member, Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson. He replaced astronaut Williams, who is the new record holder for a long-duration single spaceflight for a woman. Williams is home after a record breaking 195-day space odyssey by a woman.
Williams crossed the new milestone on Saturday last surpassing the 188-day, four-hour mark set by US astronaut Shannon Lucid in 1996 on a mission to the Russian Mir space station.
Although it is only her first space flight, Williams became the world's most experienced woman walker in space on February four with four excursions clocking over 29 hours and 17 minutes to top Kathy Thornton's 21-hour space walking record.
During her stay at the space station, Williams has worked with experiments across a wide variety of fields, including human life sciences, physical sciences and Earth observation as well as education and technology demonstrations.
Some of these experiments give scientists critical insight into the effects of weightlessness on human bodies while others show ways to prevent effects already known about like muscle and bone loss.
In addition to rigorous exercise, Williams also collected and stored her blood while in space to add to an ongoing study on nutrition, another key element of living in space for long stretches of time.
The results of this study may impact nutritional requirements and food systems developed for future ventures in space.