The Space Shuttle Endeavor ended its 16-day mission Friday with a landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On board were six crew members and one passenger, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who was working on the International Space Station for the past four and a half months.
As the shuttle came in for a smooth landing in Florida, NASA's Kylie Clem at the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control here in Houston provided details.
"This is the 71st landing at the Kennedy Space Center. Endeavor has completed its 23rd mission and the 127th space shuttle mission. It was the 29th to the International Space Station," she said.
This latest mission overlapped with the 40th anniversary of the first manned mission to the moon, Apollo 11 in July, 1969. The mission also comes at a time when NASA is planning to wind down the shuttle program and concentrate on a return to the moon and manned missions to Mars. The last shuttle flight is set for next year.
But this latest mission showed the utility of the shuttle, not only for deploying satellites and carrying out experiments in orbit, but for maintaining the International Space Station. Crewmembers performed five space walks in which they did repairs and also attached an experimental platform to the Japanese Kibo laboratory. The platform, sometimes referred to as a porch, is used for experimental modules that can be moved about and checked with a remote manipulator arm controlled from inside a pressurized crew module.
While he was working there, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata carried out a number of experiments in the $1billion laboratory and on his own body. He tried out some new underwear shorts made of bacteria-killing, water-absorbing material.
He called that experiment successful since he wore the same underwear for a month working in close quarters with other crew members on the space station and no one complained. The experimental shorts were developed by textile experts at The Women's University in Tokyo.
The Space Shuttle Discovery is being readied for launch on August 25 to deliver more supplies and equipment to the space station.
One of the Endeavor crew members who was on board when the shuttle launched on July 15, U.S. Army Colonel Timothy Kopra, stayed behind on the space station and Koichi Wakata took his place in the shuttle for the ride home.
After 137 days in orbit, Wakata says he anxious to return to Japan to eat some sushi, visit a hot spring and see his wife and son. The Endeavor crew is scheduled to return to Houston on Saturday.