Discovery returns home safe

The shuttle Discovery has touched down successfully in California after the first mission since 2003's Columbia disaster.

Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base at around 1312 BST (0512 PST; 1212 GMT) after bad weather forced a change to the intended Florida landing site.

Columbia broke up on re-entry because of damage it sustained when foam debris fell off the fuel tank during lift-off.

The shuttle made a night landing at the runway north of Los Angeles.

"We're happy to be back and we congratulate the whole team for a job well done," Discovery's commander Eileen Collins told mission controllers after the shuttle touched down.

NASA officials cheered and clapped as Commander Collins made a perfect landing on runway 22 at Edwards Air Force Base about 54 minutes before dawn.

The shuttle touched down at around 322km/h (200mph), deploying its parachute to slow it down after making a 196-degree turn to align itself with the landing strip.

Its steep trajectory took it over the Pacific Ocean and just north of Los Angeles.

At 1206 BST (0706 EST; 1106 GMT) on Tuesday, the orbiting shuttle began its return to Earth by fired its two Orbital Maneuvering System engines for about two minutes 42 seconds and an altitude of around 329km (205 miles), reports BBC News.

According to Reuters, NASA accomplished its main goal for the mission - safely launching and landing the aging shuttle. But when chunks of insulation flew off Discovery's fuel tank during launch, the U.S. space agency learned it had failed to fix the problem that doomed Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003.

Columbia disintegrated over Texas, killing all seven astronauts on board. Investigators blamed the disaster on a large piece of insulating foam that broke off the tank during launch and punched a hole in the orbiter's wing, allowing superheated gases to enter as the ship returned to Earth.

NASA scored some notable successes on its long-awaited return-to-flight mission, launched on July 26 after the agency spent $1 billion on repairs and safety upgrades. Discovery carried badly needed supplies and equipment to the space station and used new technology, including laser scanners, to search for damage on the outside of the shuttle.

Discovery's crew performed three successful spacewalks - replacing a faulty steering gyroscope and reviving another on the space station.

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