The space shuttle Endeavour has returned to Earth for the final time, after completing a 16-day mission to the International Space Station.
NASA welcomed home the Endeavour shuttle before dawn Wednesday, after the ship glided in from a safe re-entry and touched down one last time.
"And so," said a U.S. space agency commentator, "after a journey of six-and-a-half million miles [10.5 million kilometers], Endeavour landing in darkness, but illuminated by the ingenuity and dedication of every astronaut, scientist, engineer, flight controller, mechanic and dreamer that helped it fly."
Endeavour spent a total of 299 days in space before completing its 25th mission with a night landing on the brightly lit runway at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.
Astronaut Mark Kelly commanded the mission, which included installing a sophisticated particle detector on the International Space Station.
"On behalf of my entire crew, I want to thank every person that has worked hard to get this mission going and every person that has worked on Endeavour," said Kelly. "It is sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy."
Endeavour is the newest shuttle in NASA's fleet, and it was built to replace the shuttle Challenger, which exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986.
Schoolchildren nationwide competed for the honor of naming this shuttle. President George Herbert Walker Bush selected the winner - Endeavour, after an 18th Century research sailing vessel that explored uncharted land and waters in the South Pacific.
Endeavour first launched in 1992, and its legacy includes a historic rescue of a stranded satellite. Upon retirement, the shuttle will be displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
NASA's next and final shuttle flight is set for July 8, when the space shuttle Atlantis lifts off for the last time. NASA is retiring its shuttle fleet in order to focus on developing the next generation of spaceflight vehicles.