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ATLANTIS SWOOPS TO EARLY LANDING
WIND PREDICTION SHORTENS MISSION

SHARE ATLANTIS SWOOPS TO EARLY LANDING
WIND PREDICTION SHORTENS MISSION

Atlantis' astronauts swooped out of orbit to a safe, early landing in the Mojave Desert Monday after a five-day mission that sent the Galileo spacecraft streaking across the solar system toward Jupiter.

Commander Donald Williams and pilot Mike McCulley guided the 97-ton winged spaceship to a stop on a hard clay lakebed runway at 10:33 a.m. MDT, concluding a flight that covered 1.7 million miles.They landed into a light headwind of about 8 mph.

"Congratulations on an outstanding mission," Frank Culbertson, the spacecraft communicator at Mission Control in Houston, told the shuttle crew. "You've extended the shuttle's reach to the outer planets."

"It's nice to be home," Williams replied.

The five astronauts started their descent from orbit an hour before touchdown when Williams fired Atlantis' braking rockets 180 miles above the Indian Ocean. That slowed the ship's 17,400 mph speed by 219 mph and started it on a fiery, hourlong dive through the atmosphere.

Two sonic booms crackled over the California desert as Atlantis glided powerless through the clear sky, making wide circles to reduce speed as it descended.

Mission Control decided Sunday to shorten the shuttle's trip by two 90-minute orbits because the calmest winds at Edwards Air Force Base were predicted early in the day. High winds were forecast in the afternoon.

Weather officials said the winds at the time of touchdown were well within safety limits for a shuttle landing.

Controllers radioed weather information to the astronauts up to moment of engine ignition and told them the best wind conditions were on lakebed runway 23, one of six available at Edwards.

If the winds had been too strong, the landing could have been postponed until Tuesday or Wednesday.

As the five astronauts were ending their journey, the Galileo probe they dispatched on Wednesday was more than 1 million miles from Earth on a six-year voyage to explore the mysteries of giant Jupiter.

The astronauts adjusted their schedule for the early landing by going to bed 2 1/2 hours early Sunday night and 90 minutes early the previous night.

They were awakened early Monday to strains of "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band.

"Good morning, Atlantis," Mission Control radioed to the craft.

"Well I'm not sure we're flying like eagles, but it's been fun so far," Williams replied.

Summing up the mission, flight director Bob Castle termed it "very successful."