Spaceflight Now: STS-101 Mission Report

Atlantis returns to Florida with perfect touchdown
Posted: May 29, 2000

Atlantis touches down at 2:20 a.m. EDT today in Florida and deploys the drag chute. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
The shuttle Atlantis glided to a smooth nighttime landing early today, touching down on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a near-flawless space station repair mission. With veteran commander James Halsell and pilot Scott Horowitz at the controls, the black-and-white spaceplane dropped out of darkness and into the glare of runway spotlights a few seconds before touching down at 2:20:17 a.m. EDT (0620:17 GMT).

"Wheels stopped, Houston," Halsell radioed after Atlantis coasted to a halt.

"Roger wheels stopped, Atlantis. Jim, congratulations to you and the crew on just a super mission to the international space station," replied astronaut Rick Sturckow from mission control.

"Smiles around the cabin here, appreciate your help," Halsell called.

Read our play-by-play reports of the landing in the Mission Status Center.

It was the fourteenth night landing in shuttle history, the ninth at the Kennedy Space Center. Mission duration was nine days 20 hours nine minutes and eight seconds.

The shuttle rolls out on Runway 15. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
"I've been in this business of human spaceflight for over 20 years and it never ceases to amaze me how wonderful a machine the space shuttle really is," said shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore. "We had a wonderful mission, everything worked just right and the ground teams, process teams, mission control teams and the flight crew made everything look easy. And believe me, it takes a lot of work ... to do the job you have seen over the past 10 days. These crews did a wonderful job and we had a very successful mission."

The international space station, meanwhile, sails on in orbit after a complex orbital overhaul. During six days docked to the outpost, Atlantis's crew replaced four of the Zarya module's six batteries; installed new battery control equipment; replaced a faulty radio antenna on the U.S. Unity module; installed a replacement telemetry unit in Zarya; and transferred 1.5 tons of supplies and equipment to the station that will be used by the lab's first full time crew after arrival late this year.

They also installed 10 new smoke detectors, new fans to improve air circulation, fresh water for the next crew and a computer cable that will enable flight controllers in Moscow to activate critical Zarya systems through NASA's communications link.

Flight controllers say the station's systems are operating flawlessly and that all systems are go for arrival in July of a new Russian command module that will take over many of Zarya's functions. Thanks to repairs by Atlantis's crew, Zarya's systems are now healthy and more than up to the task of docking with the passive command, or service, module. Once the service module is attached, station assembly will pick up this fall with a quick succession of shuttle assembly flights and arrival of the first full-time crew in early November.

The seven astronauts make brief statement on the runway in front of Atlantis after the landing. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
"Once we get into the fall, it's off to the races," Dittemore said.

Three of Atlantis's crew members will be following station developments with more interest than most. Cosmonaut Yury Usachev, Susan Helms and James Voss plan to spend four to six months aboard the space station next year as the lab's second full-time crew. All three appear eager to return to the unfinished complex.

"It felt like home," Helms said late Saturday. "It was just beautiful, I was very, very impressed."

Helms, Usachev, Voss, Halsell, Horowitz, Mary Ellen Weber and Jeffrey Williams were out of Atlantis about an hour after touchdown. All seven will spend Memorial Day at the Kennedy Space Center before flying back to Houston early Tuesday.

"Thanks for coming out," Halsell said to well wishers and technicians on the runway. "I know it's bad hours for the arrival but we are certainly glad to be back home, we were glad to have had a successful mission, we're glad to be part of the beginning stages of the international space station and we just feel priviledged to have been a part of it all."

Halsell then thanked his crewmates for the "outstanding work they did and I'd like to say thank you to the outstanding ops team back at the Johnson Space Center who were with us every step of the way. And finally and most importantly, I'd like to say thank you to the Kennedy Space Center. This vehicle hasn't flown for a couple of years and yet it flew in an outstanding fashion with no significant problems and it just served us so very well.

"Thanks a lot for coming out tonight," Halsell concluded. "We're going to go have a shower, have a home-cooked meal and good night. Thanks a lot!"

About the author
William Harwood has covered the U.S. space program for more than 15 years. He is a consultant for CBS News and writes The Washington Post and Space News. He maintains a space website for CBS News.

Ground track
See the path Atlantis will take on its return to Earth with our STS-101 Landing Tracker.

KSC Orbit 155 - touchdown in Florida at 0620 GMT.

Video vault
Space shuttle Atlantis makes a smooth nighttime landing at the Kennedy Space Center under the control of commander Jim Halsell.
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Atlantis astronaut Jim Voss gives a guided tour through the International Space Station.
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Atlantis astronauts replace a faulty battery and associated electronics in the floor of station's Zarya module.
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The Russian Strela cargo boom is assembled and attached to the International Space Station by spacewalking astronauts.
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Spacewalkers remove and replace a failed U.S. communications antenna assembly from the side of the International Space Station.
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Space shuttle Atlantis blasts off at sunrise on May 19 on a 10-day repair mission to the International Space Station.
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