The Endeavour astronauts soared to a landing in California this afternoon, after high winds and thunderstorms blocked a descent to NASA`s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to Houston Chronicle.
The shuttle touched down at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., at 3:25 p.m. CST, with commander Chris Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe at the controls.
The landing closed out a 16-day mission for six of the seven astronauts, who equipped the international space station with the life support systems to house more astronauts and overhauled electricity generating solar panels with four spacewalks. Greg Chamitoff, the seventh flier, returned to Earth after six months of duty aboard the station.
"We`re happy to be in California," radioed Ferguson, as the ship rolled to a stop on the runway.
Ferguson`s crew was hoping for a Florida homecoming, where close family members were gathered.
Though NASA prefers to land shuttles in Florida, the sunshine state`s foul weather left Mission Control with few options: either divert Endeavour to California this afternoon or try for Kennedy again on Monday.
The blustery conditions brought by a cold front forced the fliers to pass up Florida twice today.
"I know you folks have been working this real hard," Ferguson radioed when informed of NASA flight director Bryan Lunney`s decision. "It is what it is."
Gusts at Kennedy whipped to nearly twice the shuttle`s 17 mile per hour limit for runway crosswinds. Forecasters issued a tornado watch.
Endeavour`s was the first California landing for a shuttle since June 2007.
Ferguson, Boe, Chamitoff, Steve Bowen, Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper, Don Pettit and Shane Kimbrough were to spend the night in California undergoing medical exams and resting.
With bones and muscles weakened by months of weightlessness, Chamitoff faces one to two months of supervised physical rehabilitation. As his station duties drew near an end, the 46-year-old aeronautical engineer said he craved pizza, diet soda and rocky road ice cream.
The fliers are scheduled to return to the Johnson Space Center training base and Houston-area homes on Monday. The space agency plans a welcoming ceremony at Ellington Field at 4 p.m. The ceremony is open to the public.
Endeavour`s astronauts furnished the station with a new kitchen, two small bedrooms, exercise equipment and a water recycler. The recycler was developed to reclaim drinking water from urine, perspiration and other sources of moisture in the station`s atmosphere.
The enhancements position the station to grow from three to six full-time resident astronauts by mid-2009.
Endeavour`s cargo includes about two gallons of samples of water processed by the recycler. Those and future samples will be tested to assess the quality of the recycled water before NASA approves consumption by the astronauts.
The evaluations are expected to take at least 90 days.
The recycler`s urine processor, one of two major subassemblies, proved troublesome in the early activation. However, by the end of Endeavour`s 12-day visit to the station, the machinery was working.
NASA managed four shuttle assembly missions to the station in 2008, the most in one year since the 2003 Columbia tragedy.
Earlier flights added European and Japanese science modules, work sites for the increased number of astronauts that NASA and its 14 international partners now plan.
During the next shuttle mission, scheduled for a Feb. 12 liftoff, seven astronauts will equip the station with a fourth and final solar power module.
Plans for the launching of the shuttle Atlantis with seven astronauts on a mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope in October were postponed when the observatory encountered problems with an image formatting computer. The space agency is preparing a replacement. The Hubble flight is tentatively headed toward a May liftoff.