"Discovery. Houston. We see you," said the controller at the Space Center at Houston. Infrared image of Discovery as it glides 5000 miles following a "glowing re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere" early this morning.
"America, you can exhale," FOX News anchor John Scott is saying as Discovery, with Commander Eileen Collins at the controls, touches down smoothly at c. 8:12 a.m. EDT at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, where the rosy fingers of dawn are just beginning to rise above the horizon. NASA had scrubbed two earlier opportunities to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida because of unstable weather.
"Congratulations on a truly spectacular test flight," Mission Control said once Discovery came to a stop. "Welcome home, friends."
"Discovery is the first shuttle to return to orbit since Columbia's catastrophic re-entry in 2003. So its journey was watched with unusual intensity across the globe," notes the WaPo. Big time. As we were just saying to Tuck, before the Columbia disaster shuttle landings barely merited a news-alert interruption of 24/7 coverage of the latest missing-girl or sex-with-students story. This was a real cliff hanger, and what joy to know their mission is accomplished with such distinction, not to mention drama. Beyond the awesome technical achievement, we're thinking the excellent cable coverage may help boost the space program -- wherever it may be headed -- back into the popular imagination as a worthwhile endeavor for a great nation. Not to mention the morale buster it must be for the enemy. 'Wonder how Al-Jazeera is spinning it? Nothing about the landing on their web site as of this writing. Will check back later.
"Houston," said Discovery Commander Eileen Collins, "we are stopped."
"NASA had hoped to land in Florida to save money and the long slow trip back from Florida," reports the WaPo, but in the afterglow of success, that doesn't seem like too high a price to pay.
Update: Trey Jackson, The Political Teen, has video of the historic event.