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US Space Shuttle Atlantis Completes Mission

The U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis is back on earth after delivering a new laboratory to the International Space Station. VOA's Michael Bowman has details from Washington.

Sonic booms echoed over Florida as Atlantis returned to Cape Canaveral, completing a voyage that saw the shuttle log more than eight million kilometers in orbit.

The 13-day mission included nine days at the International Space Station, ISS. The orbiter delivered the European Space Agency's multi-ton science laboratory, Columbus, a critical component of the space station that NASA says marks the European Space Agency's entry as an active partner in the station's operations and utilization.

The mission had been delayed for two months due to mechanical glitches. NASA hopes it will be the first of multiple shuttle missions this year as it and other space agencies work to meet a 2010 target date for completing the space station. Launches have been less frequent since 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered earth's atmosphere, necessitating greater reliance on Russian vessels for supplying the space station and rotating its crew.

NASA faced a deadline for safe return of Atlantis, as the U.S. Navy prepares to shoot down a faulty satellite that has fallen out of its intended orbit and is in danger of scattering debris and toxic fuel.