STS-125 Ends With Edwards AFB Landing

Frank Morring, Jr.

The space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth at Edwards AFB, Calif., this morning after almost 14 days in space on the final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Touchdown came at 11:38 a.m. EDT.

As was the case with the on-orbit servicing, which achieved all its objectives in the face of difficulties, the crew of Atlantis had to overcome some hurdles to get to the landing. Weather at the primary landing site at Kennedy Space Center forced wave-offs on three successive days before mission managers ordered a diversion to the backup landing facility at Edwards.

The two-minute, 36-second deorbit burn with both of the Orbital Maneuvering System engines in the tail of Atlantis started at 10:24 a.m. EDT, when the orbiter was over South Africa . Each generating about 6,000 pounds of thrust, the engines dropped Atlantis from its 350-by-184-mile orbit into an orbit with a perigee on the other side of the 399,000-foot atmospheric-entry interface.

Commander Scott Altman and pilot Greg Johnson turned the orbiter into a nose-forward, belly-down attitude to get the thermal protection system in the proper attitude, and reentry started at about 11:08 a.m. EDT. Atlantis' route took it to the northwest of Hawaii and straight on in to Edwards, in the desert to the east of Los Angeles.

The California landing will require a ferry flight back to Kennedy on the NASA 747 modified for the purpose. That will add $1.8 million to the cost of the mission and a delay of a week or so in getting the orbiter back to the processing facilities at the shuttle home port.

The STS-125 mission met all of its objectives, setting up the telescope with two new state-of-the-art astronomical instruments -- the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph -- and two failed instruments that were brought back into service - the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Advanced Camera for Surveys.

In five back-to-back spacewalks, astronauts John Grunsfeld, Drew Feustel, Mike Massimino and Mike Good - aided by astronaut Megan McArthur at the controls of the orbiter's robotic arm -- also installed new batteries, gyros and other hardware needed to give the Hubble at least five more years of service life, barring accident.

Photo credit: NASA TV

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