Space shuttle lands in California after installing robot arm

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) _ Forced to take a detour because of rain in Florida, space shuttle Endeavour and its international crew of seven landed in the Mojave Desert on Tuesday after installing a billion-dollar robot arm on the international space station.

Heralded by twin sonic booms that reverberated across Southern California, Endeavour came out of a sparkling blue sky to touch down at 9:10 a.m., ending a 12-day mission.

``It's great to be back, and we want to express our gratitude to all the folks on the ground who made that mission pull off like it did,'' Endeavour commander Kent Rominger said.

Endeavour lifted off April 19, carrying 6,000 pounds of supplies and a 58-foot robotic arm that the astronauts installed while the shuttle was docked at space station Alpha. The crane is needed to add pieces to the orbital outpost over the next 10 to 15 years.

The crew also struggled with baffling computer shutdowns aboard the space station that delayed testing of the arm and forced Endeavour to remain docked an extra day.

The shuttle left the station on Sunday, making room for a Russian spacecraft carrying two cosmonauts and American financier Dennis Tito, who paid as much as $20 million to become the world's first space tourist.

NASA sent Endeavour to California instead of Cape Canaveral, Fla., because of rain, wind and clouds. The move disappointed the shuttle's crew, whose families were waiting for them in Florida.

Three of the last five shuttle missions landed in California. Atlantis touched down at Edwards in February, also after a construction mission to the space station.

NASA prefers to land its shuttles in Florida to save time and money. It costs as much as $1 million to send the shuttle on a cross-country trip back to Cape Canaveral atop a jumbo jet.

The next shuttle flight will be next month, when Atlantis lifts off to deliver a pressure compartment to the space station that spacewalking astronauts will use.

In the meantime, NASA wants to make sure all the command-and-control computers on the station continue to run and to understand what went awry at the 250-mile-high outpost last week.

During Endeavour's mission, the computer problems kept more than 500 controllers and engineers on Earth working around the clock. All three computers were working Tuesday, but only two with functioning hard drives.

Tuesday's landing was the 48th at Edwards in the 20-year history of the shuttle program, which has had 103 landings in all.