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Space shuttle Endeavour landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on Tuesday after completing a shortened, 13-day construction mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The much-publicized hole in the protective tiles covering the shuttle's underbelly did not impact the vehicle's reentry and no unusual conditions were reported during the period of maximum heating.
The shuttle, with a crew of seven astronauts, touched down at 12:32 p.m. EDT (1632 GMT) at the Shuttle Landing Facility of the Kennedy Space Center, where weather conditions were ideal for the spaceplane's return.
Scott Kelly, a first-time commander, and pilot Charlie Hobaugh guided the shuttle on its fiery plunge through the atmosphere and hour-long free-fall descent back to Earth. They then precisely executed a series of turns and banking maneuvers that slowed the vehicle for its landing on a 3-mile (4.8 kilometer) long runway at the Kennedy Space Center.
Ground support crews have approached the spacecraft and begun the process of "safing" the vehicle -- the purging of toxic propellants and substances -- in preparation for the crew's exit.
Endeavour's next mission is scheduled for mid-February 2008.
Endeavour is landing one day earlier than planned due to measures taken late last week to ensure that NASA's Mission Control operations in Houston, Texas were not interrupted by Hurricane Dean. At the time, it appeared the massive storm could swing north to hit coastal Texas and prompt an evacuation of Mission Control, Houston.
Although the threats of Hurricane Dean are bating considerably, NASA still decided to take no chances and chose to let the shuttle land at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, instead of the Johnson Space Center in Houston of Texas.
The shuttle, launched on August 8 and docked with the ISS two day later, hauled a total of 4,270 pounds (1,936 kilograms) of cargo to the space station alongside a new external spare parts platform and a new starboard girder for the orbital laboratory's backbone- like main truss. Astronauts from the shuttle and station completed a total of 4 spacewalks during the mission.