The space shuttle Endeavour has landed safely at Cape Canaveral in Florida after a 13-day construction mission to the International Space Station. As VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington, teacher-turned astronaut Barbara Morgan remained the center of attention as the mission came to a successful close.
The space shuttle Endeavour rolled to a stop Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after a perfect landing.
NASA spokeswoman Kylie Clem highlighted the role of teacher-turned astronaut Barbara Morgan.
"Endeavour returning the first educator-mission specialist Barbara Morgan to Earth, to begin the new step in her journey to inspire future generations to explore, learn and build a better future," said Kylie Clem.
Working on the ground at Houston's Mission Control, astronaut Chris Ferguson also paid tribute to the teaching aspect of the mission.
"Roger, wheel stop, Endeavour. Congratulations. Welcome home. You've given a new meaning to higher education," said Chris Ferguson.
After waiting 22 years for the chance, the 55-year-old Morgan was finally able to realize her dream of teaching school children from space. NASA had picked Morgan as the back-up "Teacher in Space" for Christa McAuliffe, one of the seven Challenger astronauts killed in 1986.
During a video conference with students in Idaho, Morgan demonstrated weightlessness by easily lifting two of her male crew members over her head. She also showed children how astronauts drink, through a straw, in space.
Although Morgan captured the spotlight, some experts are saying NASA managers and engineers are the real stars of this mission. NASA decided not to repair damage to the shuttle's heat-shield tiles during a spacewalk, after conducting exhaustive tests and analyses and consulting independent experts.
At a news conference after the mission, NASA officials said the tiles did very well during re-entry into the atmosphere, adding that the Endeavour spaceship appears to be in "pristine condition."
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin made clear that no one within the agency took the gouge in the tiles lightly.
"We were paying an extraordinary amount of attention to it," he said. "And of course, with any technical activity, you never know what you don't know until you find out you don't know it, and that could be a bad day."
NASA has paid close attention to the heat-shield tiles since the space shuttle Colombia disintegrated upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere in 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board.
During their nine days docked at the International Space Station, Endeavour's seven-member crew continued construction of the outpost, conducting four spacewalks and replacing a failed gyroscope.