The space shuttle Atlantis landed in Florida on Wednesday, ending a mission highlighted by delivery of Europe's first permanent space laboratory to the International Space Station.
Commander Steven Frick piloted Atlantis during its drop from orbit to the Kennedy Space Center runway, touching down at 9:07 a.m. in Cape Canaveral. During Frick's last mission in 2002, he co-piloted a shuttle to the space station.
"We're extremely happy to be home," Frick told Mission Control at the end of the 13-day mission.
Columbus Science Lab
Most of Atlantis' mission was spent at the space station, where crews installed the European science lab Columbus. French astronaut Leopold Eyharts remained at the orbiting outpost with an American and a Russian to get the lab up and running.
Eyharts replaced NASA astronaut Daniel Tani, who returned home aboard Atlantis after 120 days in space. During the mission, Tani's 90-year-old mother was killed in a traffic accident.
Atlantis will now be prepared for its next flight, which will carry seven astronauts on NASA's final trip to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA took the unusual step of staffing its backup landing site in California in case the weather in Florida prevented a landing there.
The U.S. military wanted the shuttle down as soon as possible so it could proceed with a plan to shoot down an ailing spy satellite, which will create a debris cloud at the edge of the atmosphere that could have been a hazard to a returning space shuttle.
The debris is expected to burn up in the atmosphere within a few days.
The military has said it will fire a ship-based missile at the satellite, which failed shortly after a 2006 launch. Military officials said it is carrying toxic rocket fuel that could endanger populated areas if it re-entered the atmosphere without human intervention to guide it into the ocean.
The missile could be launched as early as Wednesday night, from a warship in the Pacific.