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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of five returned to Earth late Tuesday night after delivering and installing a new portal for spacewalkers at the international space station.
The shuttle swooped to a landing on the floodlighted runway at 11:39 p.m. following a one-day rain delay.
``It looked like an outstanding landing after an outstanding mission. Well done, Steve, to you and your crew,″ Mission Control told commander Steven Lindsey and his crew.
A line of showers prevented Atlantis from returning to its home base Tuesday morning and added a 13th day to the flight, which had already been extended by a day because outfitting the portal, or air lock, took longer than expected. By late Tuesday, the clouds were high and sparse and there was no rain around.
``As the slogan goes, what a difference a day makes,″ observed Mission Control commentator Rob Navias.
It was only the 18th space shuttle landing in darkness in 20 years; infrared cameras showed the incoming spaceship as a white blur from up to 70 miles out. Nighttime touchdowns are becoming more common, though, in this era of space station construction.
Space station Alpha and its three residents were soaring high above the Atlantic when the shuttle ended its 5.3 million-mile journey.