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Endeavour down safely at Edwards

Operation Golden Barrel deemed successful

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The space shuttle Endeavour landed safely at Edwards air force base in California yesterday, completing a 16-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The shuttle had been slated to set down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but weather concerns led to the use of the backup runway. Endeavour will be shipped back to Kennedy piggybacking on a jumbo jet in "7-10 days", according to NASA, before being prepped for a new mission next May.

The just-completed mission was full of incident, with the shuttle astronauts conveying a large consignment of new stuff up to the ISS. Goodies included a useful second lavatory, extra sleeping quarters, and a somewhat troublesome urine-recycler unit. Endeavour's stay at the ISS was extended by one day in order to allow extra time for her crew to wrestle with a recalcitrant centrifuge drum, critical to the process of turning astronaut piss into lip-smacking refreshments. The tinkle-tumble unit's performance is now quite acceptable, apparently.

The various new fixtures installed during the visit form part of preparations to double the permanent crew of the ISS from three to six in future. Spacewalk work was also carried out on the rotating joints of the station's solar arrays. During this, mission specialist Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper - despite being an MIT-qualified naval engineering officer and salvage diver - had the misfortune to lose her tool bag, which is now orbiting the earth separately from the space station.

NASA's next manned mission will see shuttle Discovery launched on 12 Feb next year, bringing the ISS a final pair of solar panels and a new flight engineer to replace Sandra Magnus, just dropped off by Endeavour. ®

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