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Shuttle Endeavour Returns to Earth

December 7, 2002

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ After a record-setting streak of bad landing weather, shuttle Endeavour returned to Earth on Saturday, bringing three former residents of the international space station home from a six-month mission.

The spaceship swooped through a hazy afternoon sky and touched down on the runway, three days late.

With on-board supplies and fuel getting low, NASA began the day determined to land the shuttle, if not in Florida then in California. As if to seal the deal, Mission Control awakened the crew of seven with Perry Como’s recording of ``I’ll Be Home for Christmas.″

But the weather finally cooperated in Cape Canaveral, and Mission Control instructed the shuttle pilots to aim for their home port and look out for gusty crosswind. Thick clouds had prevented Endeavour from landing each of the three previous days.

The homecoming was especially joyous for American astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev, who rocketed into orbit June 5.

``Welcome home to Valery, Peggy and Sergei after your half-year off the planet,″ Mission Control radioed.

Whitson’s husband, like her a biochemist, anxiously awaited his wife. The cosmonauts’ wives and sons also were on hand.

It was an important day for NASA, and not just because of Endeavour’s highly anticipated return. Thirty years ago, on Dec. 7, 1972, the space agency launched its last Apollo moon shot.

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