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Space shuttle Endeavour prepares for final landing

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Space Shuttle Endeavour.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (AFP): US space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to make its final landing early today, becoming the second American shuttle to enter retirement as the programme draws to a close after 30 years.

Endeavour and its crew of six astronauts -- five Americans and one Italian -- are to make a nighttime touchdown at Florida's Kennedy Space Centre at 0635 GMT, the US space agency NASA said Tuesday.

The astronauts are wrapping up STS-134, a 16-day mission to the International Space Station, where they installed a USD 2 billion physics experiment to probe the origins of the universe, and also conducted four spacewalks.

"The weather is looking very promising," NASA interim flight director Tony Ceccacci said in a briefing about weather conditions at landing time.

The past few days had shown a likelihood of high crosswinds that could have interfered with landing, but those forecasts have improved, he said.

Crosswinds at landing are now expected to be about 10 knots, well below the upper limit of 12 knots for a night landing.

"We are very confident that trend is going to stay the same until Wednesday," he said.

If the shuttle is unable to land at 0635 GMT, a second landing opportunity would open at 0811 GMT.

Tuesday, NASA also started the final rollout to the launch pad of the shuttle Atlantis which is scheduled to launch on the very last mission of the US shuttle programme on July 8, marking the end of a three-decade programme of human space flight and exploration.

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