STS-118: Endeavour Touches Down Safely in Florida

After 13 days in space, the space shuttle Endeavour touched down safely in Florida today. NASA managers actually decided to bring the shuttle home a day early, to beat Hurricane Dean, currently ravaging the East Coast of Mexico. Despite the nearby stormy weather, conditions at Cape Canaveral were perfect for landing.

NASA managers gave the Endeavour crew instructions to begin their de-orbit burn at 11:05 am EDT. 30 minutes later they fired their retro rockets for 3.5 minutes, slowing their orbital speed enough to get caught by the Earth’s atmosphere. The shuttle descended through breezy, blue skies across Costa Rica, Cuba, and then onto the 3-mile (4.8 km) landing strip in Florida. It rolled to a stop at 12:32 pm EDT.

The reason for the early return was Hurricane Dean, which had recently passed through Jamaica, and is now tearing up the coastal resorts in Mexico. The category 5 hurricane ended up turning south, but had it continued north, it could have forced an evacuation of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Engineers were a little concerned about the landing, because of the small chunk taken out of the shuttle’s protective heat tiles on its underside. A small piece of foam fell off the shuttle’s insulated external fuel tank and gouged out a hole across two tiles. NASA analyzed the damage and calculated that it wouldn’t pose a risk to the shuttle or the crew. They were certain that it wouldn’t even damage the shuttle’s aluminum frame, requiring extensive repairs. They landed safely, but what kind of damage the shuttle took still remains to be seen.

During their time in space, the crew of STS-118 installed a new truss element onto the station, transfered cargo, and reorganized some communications equipment.

Original Source: NASA News Release