It was the first shuttle landing at Kennedy in nearly four years. Columbia never made it back in February 2003 - shattering over Texas - and Discovery had to take a weather detour to California last summer.
"It was beautiful," Lindsey told Mission Control right before getting off the shuttle. "We could see the bright orange glow above and I could see the Earth moving below and it was just spectacular. We actually also saw the moon through the plasma (scorching gases), so it was a great entry and a great landing."
Some at NASA, including the chief engineer and NASA's top safety officer, wanted to put off the latest mission until further repairs could be made to a sensitive area of the fuel tank. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin pressed ahead with what turned out to be the space agency's first Independence Day launch.
"We are playing the odds," Griffin said at the time. The astronauts said they were confident in the decision.
The shuttle carried up seven astronauts, but departed the space station on Saturday with six - Lindsey, co-pilot Kelly, Michael Fossum, Piers Sellers, Lisa Nowak and Stephanie Wilson. German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency was left behind for a half-year stay, joining two other men there and boosting the station's crew size to three.
The Discovery crew conducted three spacewalks, one of them to test shuttle patching techniques, and used a 100-foot inspection crane to check the shuttle's entire thermal armor for any damage from launch or orbital debris. The rocketship turned out to be the cleanest seen in orbit from a thermal perspective, officials said.
The astronauts also demonstrated that the boom could function as a work platform for spacewalkers and delivered several thousand pounds of supplies to the space station, still in need of restocking because of the 2 1/2-year grounding of the shuttle fleet after Columbia's demise.
By fixing a broken rail car on the outside of the space station, the astronauts paved the way for space station construction to resume in earnest with the next shuttle flight.
Atlantis is scheduled to blast off as early as Aug. 27. Unlike Discovery's missions, which focused primarily on the flight test aspects, the Atlantis crew will haul up a major space station piece - a building-block beam - and attach it to the orbiting outpost.
The station is just half finished, eight years after the first piece went up. NASA wants it completed by the time the three remaining shuttles are retired in 2010 to make way for a new spaceship capable of carrying astronauts to the moon.
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