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Space Shuttle <i>Endeavour</i> Lands Safely - 2002-12-07

The U.S. space shuttle Endeavour has finally returned to Earth, after an unprecedented three-day landing delay. It has brought back U.S. and Russian space station crew members, who had spent six months in orbit.

Skies cleared for the first time in days over the U.S. space agency's primary landing site in Florida. Endeavour touched down in Cape Canaveral, with Russian cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev and U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, who are feeling the pull of gravity for the first time since June.

They now face months of physical rehabilitation to strengthen muscles and bones weakened by their prolonged weightlessness.

The trio was replaced aboard the station last week by a new U.S.-Russian team.

Their six-month sojourn at the outpost was one-and-a-half months longer than planned, in part because of this week's record number of landing delays, but mostly because technical and weather problems postponed Endeavour's launch several times.

While the shuttle visited the station, its crewmembers extended a girder that holds cooling, power, and data relay equipment for future research laboratories.