CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Shuttle Discovery and its astronauts returned safely to Earth today after making a rare flyover of America's heartland to wrap up their 15-day, 6 million-mile journey to the International Space Station.
The touchdown was delayed by rain and fog that dissipated as the sun rose, allowing Mission Control to take advantage of the morning's second landing opportunity.
Discovery and its crew of seven, which includes 1997 Whitman College graduate Dorothy "Dottie" Metcalf-Lindenburger, swooped through a hazy sky before landing at the Kennedy Space Center, a day late because of rain.
"Welcome home," Mission Control said, radioing congratulations.
"It was a great mission. We enjoyed it," said commander Alan Poindexter. "And we're glad that the International Space Station is stocked up again."
NASA had promised a spectacular show, weather permitting, for early risers in Helena, Mont., and all the way along Discovery's flight path through the Midwest and Southeast.
With the space shuttle program winding down, there weren't expected to be any more continental flyovers.
This was, in fact, Discovery's next-to-last flight. Only one more mission remains for NASA's oldest surviving shuttle. As soon as it's removed from the runway, it will be prepped for the final shuttle flight, scheduled for September.