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Endeavour lands on Earth after its final flight

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Space Shuttle Endeavour landing. A file photo.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (AP): Space shuttle Endeavour and its six astronauts returned to Earth today, closing out the next-to-last mission in NASA's 30-year program with a safe middle-of-the-night landing.

Endeavour touched down on the runway a final time under the cover of darkness, just as Atlantis, the last shuttle bound for space, arrived at the launch pad for the grand finale in five weeks.

Commander Mark Kelly - whose wife, Rep Gabrielle Giffords, remained behind at her rehab centre in Houston - brought Endeavour to a stop before hundreds of onlookers that included the four Atlantis astronauts who will take flight in July.

"122 million miles flown during 25 challenging spaceflights," Mission Control told Kelly and his crew mates, who wrapped up US construction at the International Space Station.

"Your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered. Welcome home, Endeavour."

Kelly replied: "It's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy."

He thanked all those who worked on Endeavour over the years.

A considerably bigger crowd gathered a few hours earlier to see Atlantis make its way to the launch pad, the last such trek ever by a shuttle.

Thousands of Kennedy Space Center workers and their families lined the route yesterday night as Atlantis crept out of the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building a little after sunset, bathed in xenon lights.

"The show pretty much tells itself," Atlantis' commander, Christopher Ferguson, said as he waved toward his ship.

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NASA  Endeavour  Earth  
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