Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Space shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts landed in California's Mojave Desert on Tuesday after dangerously high wind prevented a touchdown in Florida for the third day in a row.
The shuttle swooped through a clear sky and touched down on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base about 4 p.m. CDT, ending a 13-day flight during which the astronauts got the international space station ready for the arrival of its first full-time residents next week.
The desert landing, the first for a shuttle since 1996, will be expensive for NASA. Ferrying Discovery back to Florida, done piggyback on a modified Boeing 747, is expected to cost close to $1 million.
The mission was NASA's 100th shuttle flight. The shuttle zoomed across the Pacific and right over Los Angeles, then northward into Edwards on the final approach.
"Welcome back to Earth after a super successful mission," Mission Control said after Discovery rolled to a safe stop.
"Great to be back," replied Cmdr. Brian Duffy.
Gusts of close to 30 mph forced NASA to pass up a landing attempt at Cape Canaveral, Fla., earlier in the day. The wind also kept the shuttle from landing in Florida on Sunday and Monday, while rain clouds at Edwards on Monday scuttled landing plans there.
To the astronauts' relief, the weather was ideal at Edwards on Tuesday.
As Discovery flew over metropolitan Los Angeles, about 80 miles south of Edwards, two sonic booms blasted through the atmosphere. Minutes later, the shuttle touched down on a runway, not far from desert scrub.
"We had a terrific mission," Duffy said two hours after landing. "While we were there, we knew that we helped the future of the International Space Station and so doing we helped the future of the space program."