Shuttle aims for Wednesday evening landing

HOUSTON Early weather forecasts looked good for the shuttle's planned touchdown just before sunset at Kennedy Space Center.

The shuttle crew spent most of Tuesday packing up for the final leg home and conducting pre-landing systems checks. Everything tested fine.

Orbital debris hit has left a BB-sized ding in one of the shuttle's cockpit windows, but flight director Richard Jones said NASA was confident it posed no threat for re-entry.

Shuttle commander Dominic Gorie said his ship was in great shape for landing.

"The orbiter's really been performing really marvelously this whole flight," Gorie said. "We don't have any concerns at all about it."

The shuttle's crew accomplished every task on their lengthy to-do list, from adding another room to the international space station to assembling a giant robot that will help spacewalkers maintain the orbiting outpost.

They also tested a patch for shuttle thermal tiles, inspected a jammed solar-wing joint, dropped off a shuttle inspection boom and swapped out station residents.

French astronaut Leopold Eyharts was returning home aboard Endeavour after about a month and a half in space. His American replacement, Garrett Reisman, will remain in orbit until June.

The shuttle delivered the first section of Japan's Kibo lab, an 18,500-pound storage compartment. The actual lab will arrive in May aboard Discovery. Endeavour also ferried up a 12-foot, 3,400-pound Canadian robot named Dextre, which is intended to be a helper for spacewalking astronauts.

It took three spacewalks to put Dextre together outside the space station. In all, five spacewalks were conducted by the astronauts, the most for a shuttle-station mission. Endeavour spent 12 days at the station, the longest visit by a shuttle.

Nevertheless, Jones said, the crew didn't seem a bit fatigued as landing approached.

"They're ready to go. They've got their game faces on," he said.

Gorie said he's amazed with all that his crew has accomplished.

"Any time you have an ambitious mission like this, you can't help but wonder how it's all going to unfold," he said. "I knew our chances were good but you never quite know for sure until you pull it off."

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