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Smooth and bright: Shuttle makes nighttime landing


February 21, 1997
Web posted at: 9:30 a.m. EST

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- Aided by powerful ground lights and a nearly full moon, space shuttle Discovery glided through the pre-dawn darkness Friday and touched down at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, ending a 10-day mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. icon (261K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"We had a blast," said co-pilot Scott Horowitz.

The seven-man crew made a rare nighttime landing at 3:32 a.m. EST (0832 GMT) -- one and a half hours late because of low clouds that eventually scattered. movie icon (28 sec./1.4M QuickTime movie)

Helping shuttle skipper Ken Bowersox guide the craft to a smooth touchdown -- seen live on CNN -- were 52 halogen lights, newly installed in the center of the runway at the astronauts' request.

'The only problem was moon glare'

"It was just gorgeous coming in," Bowersox said after landing on the 3-mile (5 km)-long runway. "The only problem was moon glare," he joked. "Man it was bright out there."

streaking across the sky

Of the 82 shuttle missions, only nine have ended in darkness, but NASA expects nighttime and low-light dawn landings to become more commonplace once it starts assembly of its international space station.

Discovery's fiery re-entry was visible in the skies above Texas, as it zoomed overhead at 10,000 mph en route to Florida.

Eyewitnesses at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston said the shuttle's orange-tinged trail hung in the sky from horizon to horizon. "We almost saw the Astrodome," Bowersox said.

Next Hubble mission: 1999

The mission was the second of at least four service calls planned for Hubble, launched in 1990 with a mirror that was made the wrong way. Spacewalking astronauts corrected its myopia in 1993.


Except for the unexpected repairs to Hubble's ripped insulation, this mission involved mainly maintenance. The crew also boosted Hubble into a 385-mile-high orbit, the highest the telescope -- or a space shuttle -- has ever flown.

The mission included a record-tying number of spacewalks. "You made those five spacewalks look real easy," Mission Control told the astronauts upon their return.

During astronauts' next visit in late 1999, Hubble will be equipped with an even better camera, along with a new computer and solar panels.

Next up, though: a 16-day science mission by shuttle Columbia in April.

Correspondent John Holliman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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