Delayed Atlantis lands at last. Astronauts narrowly escaped from gasping for breath

The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis has made it safely back to Earth - two days late, short on supplies and a continent away from where they hoped to be. The astronauts' families and NASA bosses were waiting at the Kennedy Space Centre on Florida's Atlantic coast, but the menacing skies that kept the Atlantis crew in orbit two days beyond their scheduled return on Sunday forced them to aim for a landing at California's Edwards Air Force Base, in the Mojave Desert. The five Atlantis astronauts wrapped up a 13-day mission that saw them deliver a $1.4 billion (970 million pounds) laboratory module to the International Space Station, the single most expensive component of the orbiting construction site, Reuters reports. Atlantis is scheduled to return to the space station in early June, but it will be a week before the orbiter is back in its hangar and preparations for that mission can begin. Atlantis had enough fuel to keep its systems powered through Wednesday. But once Mission Control ordered the crew to close the shuttle's large payload bay doors, the crew had just three 90-minute orbits in which to land because water was running short in the radiator that keeps the shuttle cool when those doors are closed.