11:18 AM

As Endeavour Lands, NASA Preps For Next Shuttle Mission

The space shuttle Endeavour touched down safely in California Sunday after a 16-day trip of more than 6.6 million miles.

NASA's space shuttle Endeavour landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base in California Sunday.

The shuttle and its crew members returned from a 16-day trip of more than 6.6 million miles with a 1:25 p.m. landing. The STS-126 mission marked the 124th space shuttle mission and the 22nd flight for the Endeavour. It allowed astronauts to repair parts of the International Space Station (ISS) so it can house six crew members on long-term missions next year.

Chris Ferguson commanded the flight. Pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Donald Pettit, Steve Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Shane Kimbrough, and Sandra Magnus were also on board. Magnus remained aboard the station, replacing Expedition 18 Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, who returned to Earth Sunday after more than five months on the ISS.

During the 27th shuttle mission to the ISS, mission crewmembers installed a water recovery system, added sleeping quarters, put in a second toilet, and set up exercise equipment. They embarked on four spacewalks to install hardware and perform maintenance on the ISS's two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints, which allow its solar arrays to track the sun.

The crew was unable to return to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as planned because of weather conditions. A modified 747 jumbo jet will return the Endeavour from California to Florida within the next seven to 10 days. The Endeavour's next flight is scheduled for May 2009.

Discovery is scheduled to launch for the STS-119 mission on Feb. 12 to a pair of American solar arrays to power a portion of the station that supports external gear and spare parts. Lee Archambault will command that 14-day flight, which is likely to include four spacewalks. Pilot Tony Antonelli and mission specialists John Phillips, Steve Swanson, Joseph Acaba, and Richard Arnold, are preparing for that flight. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata will join them to replace Magnus as the flight engineer.

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